History

The Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Duke builds on a rich history and continues to pioneer approaches to training physical therapists.

Certificate program: A foundation of excellence

During World War Two there was an urgent need to help soldiers recover from wounds suffered in combat. In 1943, Helen Kaiser, then a physical therapist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, came to Duke to establish a post-baccalaureate Physical Therapy certificate program in the Duke University School of Medicine.

Members of Duke’s first physical therapy class

From certificate to doctorate In 1970, the curriculum underwent a major revision when the Graduate School of Duke University elevated the program to the Master of Science degree.

In 1998, at the urging of the Chancellor of Health Affairs, the School of Medicine and the administration of The Graduate School, the Board of Trustees replaced the Master of Science degree with the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), further elevating Duke’s standing in the field—not to mention raising national and international standards for physical therapist education.

Never resting on our laurels Today, the DPT program continues to evolve as it prepares students to become leaders in both clinical and research settings. In 2016, the Duke Physical Therapy Program welcomed Chad Cook, PhD, MBA, and FAAOMPT as its director. Dr. Cook succeeded Michel Landry, PhD, who served as the President of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association prior to coming to Duke.

Our program's strong commitment to teaching, along with our broadening research capabilities, expanding clinical opportunities, and solid funding, create an ongoing opportunity to write new chapters in its distinguished history.

Current location of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program

Our chairs: Leaders in physical therapy

Emblematic of the program’s stability and prestige, Duke Physical Therapy has had only five chairs, four of whom have been presidents of the American Physical Therapy Association:

  • Helen Kaiser, PT, President (1938-1940)

  • Robert Bartlett, PT, FAPTA, President (1976-1979)

  • Jane Matthews, PT, President (1985-1991)

  • Jan K. Richardson, PT, PhD, OCS, FAPTA, President (1997-2000)

Helen Kaiser in 1968