An agreement signed Tuesday by Emory & Henry College and Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) paves the way for the development of a degree program in physical therapy that could add as many as 96 graduate students to the College’s enrollment and provide Southwest Virginia with much-needed health care professionals.
The agreement establishes an understanding between Emory & Henry College and MSHA on the use of the current education building of the Smyth County Community Hospital in Marion, Virginia for a three-year doctorate of physical therapy program. The Smyth County Hospital will be vacated by MSHA when the hospital relocates in the spring of 2012.
The physical therapy program, which would begin in the fall of 2012, is contingent upon fund raising to cover start-up costs, including building renovations and salaries for administrators.
The program would enroll as many as 32 students in its first year and as many as 96 after it is fully implemented over the next three years. College and hospital officials estimate that the program could have an $8.74 million economic impact on the region after three years.
According to Dr. Chris Qualls, the vice president of academic affairs at Emory & Henry, the program is a natural extension of the College’s strong undergraduate programs in the sciences and athletic training.
"This graduate degree builds on Emory & Henry's strong reputation for educating high quality undergraduates in the sciences and athletic training and provides those students with opportunities for advanced degrees and encouragement to remain in this area after they have completed their educations," Qualls said.
The program also builds on the College's mission to address through its educational program fundamental needs of the community. "Emory & Henry is a national leader in community service because we focus our efforts on aggressively tackling many problems in our society, and access to high-quality health care providers is certainly an important issue in this region," Qualls said.
The principle objective of establishing the new program is to create a sustainable professional program that will train well-qualified students to provide physical therapy to people in the region. In recent years, Mountain States Health Alliance has had to contend with a shortage of physical therapists. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that physical therapy will be one of the fastest growing professions in the next 10 years, projecting a 30 percent growth in the number of physical therapists.
"Similar partnerships with other educational institutions have proven that one of the best ways to increase the number of local healthcare providers is to grow them right here at home," said Dennis Vonderfecht, president and CEO for MSHA. "This collaboration with Emory and Henry College will help ensure we continue to meet the physical therapy needs of our patients in Southwest Virginia with students right out of their own local communities."
Mountain States and the Smyth County Community Hospital have agreed to contribute to Emory & Henry the fair market value of a five-year lease on the education building and to provide scholarships for three students in the program. The organizations would also donate surplus physical therapy equipment to the program.
The new DPT program already has received strong support from leaders of the Smyth County Board of Supervisors, the Marion Town Council, and the Smyth County Chamber of Commerce.
To hear highlights from the event, click on the following link to see a short video.