Emory and Georgia Tech >>

Emory and Georgia Tech partner to roll out new DPT/PhD degree

Program goal is to train next generation of leaders

Emory Extension Magazine | Feb. 4, 2014

Story image
Adding interdisciplinary training in applied physiology and engineering to the clinical expertise of a DPT graduate will allow for more informed, more translational research.

The Emory Division of Physical Therapy is ready to roll out another dual-degree program. The division already boasts two such degrees – a DPT/MBA and a DPT/MPH. In the near future it will add a DPT/PhD to the list.

This dual-degree program, however, will be quite unique in that it will combine an Emory degree with one from another institution – Georgia Institute of Technology. Students who enroll will get their DPT from Emory School of Medicine and their PhD in Applied Physiology from Georgia Tech College of Sciences.

The goal of the program is to train the next generation of leaders in academic physical therapy and in movement research. "People who have a disability tend to need technology to achieve the highest quality of life," says Zoher Kapasi, PT, PhD, MBA and director of the Emory DPT program. "The engineers who develop this technology typically don't have a clinical background. A DPT graduate, however, has the clinical expertise. Adding interdisciplinary training in applied physiology and engineering will allow for more informed, more translational research."

The goal of translational research is what prompted Kapasi to approach Georgia Tech rather than another department within Emory about the dual degree. "Emory is not an engineering school," he says. "The research that goes on here is at the cellular, molecular and genetic level. Our students are more interested in applied research that can help the disabled population. That type of research is being done at Georgia Tech."

Emory students won't be the only ones to benefit from the collaboration. "The addition of DPT students into our Applied Physiology PhD program will really enhance the education of our students," says T. Richard Nichols, PhD, chair of the Georgia Tech School of Applied Physiology. "At Tech, we have students from a variety of different backgrounds, and they all lend their talents and expertise to the team to work together on common problems. The addition of DPT students with clinical backgrounds will enhance that kind of knowledge sharing tremendously and will add a new dimension to the kind of learning experienced by students in the PhD program."

Kapasi is still waiting for final approvals for the program, so some of the specifics are not yet cast in stone. He envisions that a student enrolling in the program would complete the DPT at Emory within the traditional three years, although he or she could start taking courses that would count toward the PhD during the third year. That would hopefully cut the time it takes to earn a PhD by a year or two. "In reality, a PhD program can take four or five years, or more," says Kapasi. "We're hoping that by taking some of the PhD courses as electives during the last year of DPT training, students might be able to earn the PhD in as little as three years."

When the program is launched, Emory will join an elite group. "I think there are only three or four other programs in physical therapy that offer a dual PhD degree," says Kapasi. "And I don't know of any that collaborate with another institution to do it. I think the clinical foundation of Emory combined with the engineering prowess of Georgia Tech will produce a uniquely robust program."

Adding interdisciplinary training in applied physiology and engineering to the clinical expertise of a DPT graduate will allow for more informed, more translational research.