May 19, 2022

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Five questions: Dr. Peggy Trueblood is helping start new physical therapy school at PNWU | Local

Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences has a mission to improve medical care for those living in medically underserved areas. An important part of that care is physical therapy.

It’s a big reason why the Terrace Heights school, founded in 2005, decided to pursue a physical therapy program, and in 2019 hired Dr. Peggy Trueblood to get it started.

After 15 years leading the physical therapy program at Fresno State University, Trueblood and her husband, Russ, moved to Yakima and she began the lengthy process of establishing the PNWU physical therapy program and achieving its accreditation.

“At Fresno we always would say health care professionals make a difference. Well, I wanted to make a difference in a different area, so I came up here to Yakima,” Trueblood said. “The (PNWU) mission resonated with me in terms of our role with the medically underserved, that they really did need (physical therapists), so I felt that I could come up here and help them do that. I’m glad I did.”

Trueblood is a native of Webster City, a town of about 9,000 in central Iowa. She earned her bachelor’s degree and worked in physical therapy, pediatrics and home care in the Midwest before moving to Oregon, then Southern California to continue her education, earning master’s and doctorate degrees in the area of neurophysiology. She also did extensive clinical research at UCLA and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Los Angeles.

The Herald-Republic visited Trueblood recently in her Watson Hall office to discuss where the PNWU physical therapy program stands in its accreditation process, how the discipline has changed and advanced in recent years, and what she and her husband enjoy about the Yakima Valley.

Q: What is the timeline for getting the physical therapy program going?

A: PNWU always wanted to have more than one health care profession. They started with the College of Osteopathic Medicine back in 2005. But in 2015 they did a big feasibility study on adding other health care professions, and PT came up as one of their priorities.

The board of trustees approved this building (Watson Hall) for the program in 2017, and dedicated it in 2019. That was when they hired me as the founding director, in 2019.

In terms of launching a PT program, there’s a lot of steps you have to go through. You have to have state and regional approval from the Washington Student Achievement Council and the Northwest Commission for Colleges and Universities. Both of those we achieved.

I then turned in what we call the application for candidacy with my accrediting agency, which is CAPTE (Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education) … we turned that in June 1.

Right now we’re waiting to find out if we have candidacy status, and candidacy status is the pre-accreditation status. We cannot matriculate students until we get candidacy status. By the end of November we anticipate we’re going to hear from them.

Once we get candidacy status then we’re allowed to matriculate students. So the plan is to launch in the fall of 2022, this coming fall.

To be clear, we would still be at a pre-accreditation status. We won’t become fully accredited until the spring of 2025, the spring before that first cohort graduates. There’s no guarantee that we’re going to be accredited. I’m very confident that we’re going to be accredited, but we’re at pre-accreditation status.

Q: What made the university decide to add physical therapy as a field of study? Is there a demand and a need for that type of treatment in the community?

A: They looked at all kinds of factors when they did this feasibility study. One of them of course is demand, and there is a demand for physical therapy, particularly in the Northwest. By 2028, there will be a 26% increase in demand for physical therapists, particularly here in the Northwest.

The thing that’s unique about the Northwest is we don’t have a lot of physical therapy programs. And when I say Northwest, I mean Washington, Oregon, Montana, Alaska and Idaho; those are the five states in the Northwest region. Right now we have seven accredited programs and two developing. But even with those, let’s say nine once we all get accredited, we represent like 3.5% of all the schools in the nation, which is not very big.

So if you look at the number of people we graduate each year, you’re looking at, at least, a 40% void in the workforce. We still need lots of physical therapists out there.

And more importantly, there’s a trend of people going away from rural practice. There’s a huge demand for physical therapists here, in rural and underserved communities. So that’s the mission here at PNWU. That’s why PT became a priority, because not only is there a big demand for PT, but also it matches that culture and that mission of PNWU, trying to recruit people to rural and underserved areas. We’re trying to do the same thing in our profession as they’re trying to do with primary care physicians.

I guess the other key would be that PNWU also has a very strong intra-professional culture here, or intra-professional priority, meaning that they work with all different health professions together in order to enhance patient care, particularly in rural and underserved communities. PT is fundamental in terms of being part of that health care team.

Q: How will students be selected for the program?

A: All students apply through the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (PTCAS), run by the American Physical Therapy Association. So in that way, our admissions criteria is very similar to other programs. But we’re also trying to have a very equitable, holistic admissions approach, because we’re trying to use the recruit, educate and return model that they use here for the college of osteopathic medicine. Meaning that we try to recruit from the area, educate them here and then have them come back and practice here.

We’re giving priority to those students that are from this area, from rural and medically underserved areas, as part of our admissions process. We’re trying to reduce barriers for those people going into higher ed. For example, we don’t have a cutoff for prerequisite GPA, for undergrad GPA. We don’t have cutoffs for GREs. We’ll do virtual interviews. So we reduce that barrier of transportation, the expense of coming out for an interview.

We’re really trying to be inclusive, to bring in people of all different ethnicities but also different social and economic backgrounds. We’re trying to open it up in terms of getting a diverse student population.

This is a doctor of physical therapy program, it’s typically a three-year postbaccalaureate. Ours is an eight-semester program. Three years of graduate education. So our first cohort of students, they have to have finished their bachelor’s degree by the spring of 2022. They have to complete 10 prerequisites, very similar to other programs.

One of the differences I feel is that we don’t have a cutoff, meaning it’s not that we only take people with a 3.5 or higher. We look at things other than academic metrics. That’s why I say it’s more of a holistic admissions approach. Things like leadership, service, life experiences, maturity. It’s not just grades, it’s not just book smarts. Physical therapy is a people profession, you have to communicate, think on your feet. That’s important, that’s why we do interviews, in terms of bringing the right person into the program.

And we want people who are passionate about working in rural and underserved medicine, otherwise they shouldn’t come to PNWU, because that’s our mission. We want the right person to come in terms of that cohort of students that we educate. They’re more apt to succeed if they’re here for the right reasons.

Q: How does having a physical therapy program add to Pacific Northwest University and its mission?

A: I think we have a huge opportunity in terms of putting people back out there and practicing in rural and underserved areas. We are aligned with our mission. It adds to PNWU because I think the school of physical therapy is going to be very influential with other graduates of this university.

Let’s take DOs (doctors of osteopathic medicine). These are physicians. They’re going to understand what physical therapists do. PT is often very underutilized, because people don’t know what we do as physical therapists. They’re going to understand that better, they’re going to be more apt to refer to PT, and so that’s going to help in terms of the patient care team model. I think that’s a huge benefit.

A DO might do a manipulation to help somebody but the physical therapist then would really help sustain that by giving them that exercise prescription or working to sustain whatever they did, or reduce their pain, or maintain whatever they did, because it’s a one-time thing with a DO. We complement them. I think that’s one of the things they’ll understand better after working side-by-side with us here at PNWU.

Q: Students who are considering a career in physical therapy, what advice would you give them?

A: Coming out of high school? Start early, find out in terms of the program you want to go to. Look at what’s required and start working on it now versus later. Most of them, they list their prerequisites. Your major, if it’s in science, will complement the prerequisites. So pick something that could be plan B, don’t put all your eggs in one basket because it’s very competitive to get into a PT school.

Look at it more from a kind of holistic approach. Academics are important, your major is important, but it’s also about how well you do in those classes. For example, if you start early and start getting A’s and B’s in the beginning you’re going to have that strong GPA to make you more competitive when you go to PT school.

And it’s not just academics. It’s leadership, communication skills … look for service opportunities.

Finally, get out there and find out what it’s about. Go interview a physical therapist, go shadow someone in a hospital, go shadow someone in a private practice. Go watch people work with older individuals, go watch them work with little babies.

Most people look at PT and think of sports medicine, and they may think that’s all that PT is, but go work in the hospital. Are you going to be able to handle working with the burn patients? A person with wound management? We put out generalists, people who are going to treat a child in the morning, maybe a stroke patient or a back patient later that day. There are at least 15 specialties in PT, some that you’d never think of, like pelvic health, clinical electrophysiology, aquatics, neuro. There are so many areas that PT can be, which is what makes the career so fabulous.

BONUS QUESTION: Outside of medicine, what are your interests or hobbies?

A: I like to go wine tasting, I like hiking. That’s why I love the Northwest. I love the outdoors, so I’ve found that I like Yakima. I bike on the Greenway and I go to a lot of wineries here. Good food, wine, the weather is great. My husband and I like it up here.

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