As more people turn to alternative forms of medicine to cure their aching back or recover from surgery, physical therapists are in more demand now than ever.

Florida Southern College is helping train the physical therapists of the future through its new Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, which started in the Fall 2019 semester. In November, the college dedicated the Campisi Academic Center for Physical Therapy, which contains millions of dollars of new classrooms, state-of-the-art research and training labs, ceiling-mounted cameras and monitors, portable ultrasound units, and cutting-edge balance and gait analysis systems.

The two and a half year graduate program gives students 36 weeks of full-time clinical practicums with seven faculty members who have experience ranging from orthopedics to cardiopulmonary physical therapy.

“The physical therapy program has a motivated and enthusiastic class of 24 students who are on track to graduate in December 2021,” said Dr. Nancy Nuzzo, program director and dean of the School of Physical Therapy. “The class is a diverse student body that is learning to communicate with people across the lifespan.  They are being introduced to a wide spectrum of patients and clients from pediatric to geriatric through their community volunteer services and clinical education practicums.”

A Growing Field

According to DataUSA, the median salary in the field ranged from $70,000 to $88,000 in 2018, with about 250,000 physical therapists in the nation. The industry is expected to grow 28 percent in the next ten years.

The physical and occupational therapy industry was worth more than $34 billion in 2018, up 6.2 percent from the previous year. As new PTs enter the field, the industry is expected to grow at a pace of more than 6 percent a year, reaching almost $46 billion by 2023, according to Market Research.

According to Florida Southern, Polk County has the fourth-lowest number of physical therapists per 100,000 people in Central Florida, suggesting the need for the program.

“An initial needs assessment survey showed a lack of available physical therapists in Polk County,” Nuzzo said. “The Campisi Academic Center for Physical Therapy will be an academic icon for years to come and a leader in providing highly trained physical therapists in Polk County.”

The Student Experience

Student William Keith said he chose physical therapy because he is fascinated with the human body and he wants to help people and be challenged.

“Choosing Florida Southern College was a ‘right place at the right time’ situation, as FSC is a staple in Lakeland,” he said. “As soon as I got word that my dream profession was taking a foothold in my hometown at FSC, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of it.”

Keith said the college uses Integrated Professionalism and Community Education (IPCE) as part of the curriculum to get students out and in the community, engaging with professionals, promoting wellness, and making an impact on a weekly basis.

Starting in the Fall 2020 semester, students will begin working full time in clinical settings, with a number of sites to choose from, he said.

When he completes the program, Keith said he may enter the field as a professional or further specialize.

“Polk County is my home, and any opportunity I have to stay here will definitely impact my decision as I choose my path after graduation.”

To future students, Keith said: “Come prepared and ready to learn. We have our feet on the gas pedal every day. Our program is designed to facilitate the students’ every need, providing us with any resource we can possibly imagine to become competent physical therapists. The key is to take advantage of all of these resources and take the initiative to become a better student of our profession on a daily basis.”

For additional information about this topic or how to become a partner with the Central Florida Development Council, please contact Lindsay Zimmerman at lindsay@cfdc.org.