Physical Therapy History at Iowa

The program in physical therapy at The University of Iowa started in September 1942 during World War II as an emergency course at the request of the US Army. There were two classes of 8 to 10 student per class trained each year, starting in September and March. Each class spent six months at the University completing didactic work that was followed by six months practical training in the Army. At the end of the year, a certificate of graduation was issued by the University. Dr. David "Shorty" Paul was the program’s first Medical Director and Mrs. Olive Farr was the first Technical Director.

The requirements for admission were those set by the Council on Medical Education and Hospitals of the American Medical Association, namely: graduation from an accredited school in physical education, or two years of approved college training, including satisfactory courses in biology and other sciences. Women between the ages of 19-45 were eligible. No men or nurses could be accepted (Army rules).

After the fourth class completed the course, there was only one class admitted per year.

There was no financial support given by the Army or any other organization, but several University departments gave whole heartedly of their time and effort. No tuition was charged. The course was offered free by the University of Iowa as part of its contribution to the war effort.

The program continued as an Emergency Course until the end of the war. In 1946, due to the shortage of physical therapists, the school continued to train physical therapists. Consultation with Dr. Jacobsen, Dean of the Graduate College, resulted in the courses being placed under the Graduate College. At this time, Iowa was the only school on this level; therefore, very stringent requirements were set up. Only students (men and women) with a bachelor’s degree and required science courses — particularly physics — were admitted. Tuition was charged, and for the first time our students were registered and had the same privileges as other University students. Until this time it had been a hospital-based course. All students were required to pass a national examination administered by the American Registry for Physical Therapists before their certificate from the Graduate College was issued. This exam was discontinued with the arrival of state licensure for physical therapists. The licensure law in Iowa was implemented in 1965.

The class entering in September 1946 was the first to have the opportunity to continue studying for an advanced degree after the certificate. The departments of Anatomy and Physiology offered an MS degree with the major in their departments and a minor in physical therapy. In 1948 the Graduate College approved offering an MA degree in physical therapy. In 2015 the MA degree was changed to physical rehabilitation science.

In these early years the clinical education of the students was completed entirely at University Hospitals, the Veteran’s Hospital, and University Hospital School (now known as the Center for Disabilities and Development). Today we have contracts with over 300 clinical education centers across the United States.

In 1987 the Program was granted approval by the University to offer an entry-level Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) degree and in 2003 a new Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree replaced the MPT. Effective July 1, 2012, the Board of Regents granted Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science Graduate Program department status within the Carver College of Medicine.

There have been 2,375 physical therapy graduates.

PhD Program History

The PhD program was implemented in 1972. At this time the degree was a "Therapeutics" track through the Exercise Science program. In April 1998 the PhD was awarded by the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science Graduate Program, and in July 2001 the degree was renamed to a PhD in Physical Rehabilitation Science. The program has awarded 87 PhD degrees. Nearly all of these individuals fill faculty and research roles in Universities throughout the United States.