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University of Pittsburgh    
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 22, 2024
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog

Physical Therapy/Bioengineering, DPT/PhD

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Program Overview

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) - PhD in Bioengineering program combines the entry-level DPT leading to licensure as a physical therapist, with a PhD in Bioengineering that will prepare the student to become an independent researcher. The program will integrate clinical and research experiences, with students receiving mentorship from faculty in the departments of Physical Therapy and Bioengineering. Students should have a Bachelor’s degree or higher in engineering or engineering-related discipline, with a strong interest in physical therapy.

Contact Information

Patrick Sparto, PhD, PT
Co-Director, DPT-PhD Program
Department of Physical Therapy
Bridgeside Point 1, Suite 210
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-3130
Phone: 412-383-6732

Application Process

Applications will need to be submitted through the PT Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) by December 1 for admission to the program the following August. The application is reviewed by faculty in both departments.

Admission Requirements

Students will need to meet the admission requirements of both programs. Applicants must have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in a field of engineering or closely related (e.g. physics, or applied mathematics, kinesiology). Applicants must demonstrate evidence of exposure to the field of Physical Therapy (PT) through volunteer or work experience. Applicants must submit 3 letters of reference: one physical therapist with whom the student has volunteered or worked for, one academic advisor, and one research supervisor. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required but competitive applicants typically have a 3.5 GPA or greater. Reporting of GRE scores is optional;  typically, admitted students have GRE scores greater than the 50th percentile.

Prerequisite Coursework (minimum credit hours listed is based on a semester system equivalent)

  • Chemistry I and II sequence with labs - 8 credit hours
  • Physics I and II sequence with labs - 8 credit hours
  • Biology I and II sequence with labs - 8 credit hours
  • *Anatomy (human, vertebrate, comparative or anatomical kinesiology) - 3 credit hours
  • *Physiology (human physiology preferred) - 3 credit hours
  • Exercise Physiology - 3 credit hours
  • Two courses in Psychology: should include a general psychology course and a specialized psychology course such as:  developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, psychology of disability, sports psychology - 6 credit hours
  • Statistics - 3 credit hours
  • English Writing (English composition or an upper-division writing course) - 3 credit hours
  • **Engineering Statics - 3 credit hours
  • **Advanced Mathematics (e.g. calculus) - 3 credit hours

*A two-course sequence of anatomy/physiology may meet the anatomy and physiology requirements as long as there is a total of 6 credit hours.

**Enrollment in PhD part of the program can be deferred until courses are completed.

Academic Standards

In addition to the University-wide academic rules and regulations as detailed in the General Academic Regulations section of this bulletin, the DPT program is regulated by the SHRS Academic Standards.

Curriculum Overview

Students will follow the typical plan of study for DPT residential students for the initial seven terms (i.e., 2.3 years) of the program. Then students will follow the plan of study for PhD students in Bioengineering. Clinical internships and research experiences will be performed throughout the program. At a minimum, the program will take 6 years to complete. After completing the didactic and clinical requirements of the DPT program, the student will be allowed to take the licensing exam. Students are required to write and orally defend a dissertation to complete their PhD degree.

DPT Curriculum

Our rigorous curriculum is built around 4 key areas: basic science, clinical science, leadership & professional development,and critical inquiry. The DPT plan of study integrates the basic sciences and clinical practice, emphasizes evidence basedpractice and includes a comprehensive array of course off erings in musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, integumentary,cardiopulmonary, geriatric, and pediatric physical therapy, as well as course content related to leadership & professionaldevelopment.

We want to make sure our graduates are well prepared to enter the workforce so we complement our didactic educationprogram with a clinical program that includes 42 weeks of full-time clinical internships. The curriculum is designed toemphasize early and intensive integration of our students into the clinical environment throughout their educationalprogram. Our students begin their clinical affi liations during the 2nd semester in the program and conclude with twoconsecutive 15-week termal clinical education experiences.

PhD Requirements

The Department of Bioengineering follows university guidelines on students working toward joint degrees like the DPT-PhD in Bioengineering. Typically, we have waived the life science requirement (6 credits) as comparable coursework is covered in the physical therapy curriculum. The remaining course requirements closely follow requirements for the PhD in Bioengineering.

  • Bioengineering Track Courses - 9 credits*
  • ​Life Sciences (successfully completing the lecture and lab components of Human Anatomy coursework fulfills this requirement) - 6 credits
  • Graduate Electives (successfully completing Musculoskeletal I & II fulfills this requirement) - 6 credits*
  • Graduate Engineering Mathematics - 3 credits
  • Statistics for Bioengineers - 3 credits
  • Societal, Political, and Ethical Issues in Bioengineering (or equivalent bioethics course) - 3 credits
  • Seminar - 6 credits total, 4 credits must be BIOENG 2023 - BIOENGINEERING SEMINAR SERIES . One of the four seminars can be substituted with a Preparation for STEM academic career course, when combined with appropriate certification. The other 2 credits may be from BIOENG 2023  or any other seminars deemed appropriate by the Graduate Program Director. Please see list of Approved Seminar Courses  for suggestions.
  • Doctoral Dissertation Research, BIOENG 3997  and BIOENG 3999  - 12 credits of 3999 to be taken after the proposal - 35 credits

*The standard policy for PhD students is 9 credits of track courses and 6 credits of electives. There is an exception for the Bioimaging and Signals track, for which the requirement is 12 credits of track courses and 3 credits of electives. DPT-PhD students in this track must take all four track courses, in which case only 3 elective credits are waived.

Total number of credit hours: 72 credits minimum, which includes 6 credits to fulfill life science requirement but does not include credits from foundational courses if applicable.

DPT/PhD students are also required to complete two teaching practicums before presenting their PhD proposal (comprehensive examination). No more than one practicum can be undertaken in a semester. There is no course registration for this educational experience, and fulfillment is monitored by the department.

Students typically take the PhD preliminary exam in the next summer term after they have completed 2 full terms in the program but may be taken after only one term if approved by the Department. The PhD proposal (comprehensive examination) is presented generally at the end of the second year. A final public PhD defense is made by each PhD candidate based on the student’s research work.

Please see the Department of Bioengineering’s PhD Requirements page  for more details.

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