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Brenau gets green light on physical therapy doctorate program
Tracy Wright, the assistant director of clinical education in the physical therapy department at Brenau, helps Kellee Knight, Allison Meehan and Lauren Patton identity leg and foot muscles during anatomy lab. - photo by Nick Dentamaro

Brenau University will soon be accepting and educating future doctors of physical therapy.

The university’s new physical therapy doctoral degree program recently received candidacy for accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

The candidacy is one of the final steps toward full accreditation from the commission, and it is a green light for the university begin accepting students into the first cohort, or class, for May 2015.

Dr. Kathye Light, chairwoman of the physical therapy department, said the accreditation process is multilevel, but candidacy is the biggest level.

“This gives permission for us to accept students, and they’ve basically approved everything for us to begin,” Light said. “That’s what just passed and therefore what we’re interested in is getting the word out that we are open for business.”

The commission authorized Brenau to begin accepting applications in the spring. Full accreditation requires candidates to complete their studies and receive degrees in May 2018. Approval has already been granted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the regional accreditation agency.

David Morrison, university vice president of communications and marketing, said the physical therapy program will be the university’s third clinical doctorate, a rarity in the region.

“We haven’t been able to find anybody else in the Southeast that offers doctorates in all three of the things we now have doctorates in: physical therapy, occupational therapy and nursing,” he said.

Both Morrison and Light said the physical therapy program has a number of attributes uncommon in other regional programs.

The university and city of Gainesville recently converted space in the Brenau University Downtown Center into a home for the doctor of physical therapy program. Brenau trustees approved a plan to spend $6.7 million on renovations, equipment and hiring of faculty and staff for the program.

“It’s beautiful,” Light said. “I think the building as a whole and all the facilities couldn’t be better. What we have is not only educational space, but we have research space and clinical space as well.

“There’s going to be an in-house faculty practice as well as a number of research labs.”

Light said the faculty members at Brenau are part of what sets the program apart. She and her fellow faculty members all come from well-established colleges and universities and are experts in physical therapy education.

“The program is new, but our faculty is not new at this,” she said.

Building a new doctorate program from scratch also ensures the success of the program, Light said.

“I think something that is important is we were attracted to the new possibility of starting a program from the ground up and actually making it be what we always wanted a program to be,” she said.

Candidates for the doctor of physical therapy program must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, a minimum grade point average of 3.0, 40 hours of volunteer experience or observations and three letters of recommendation.

All qualified candidates will sit for personal interviews. More information on the application process is available at

Light said the faculty members hope to accept “exceptional students able to meet the rigor of the program.” She said she understands some students may wonder why they should want to attend a new program with many established programs across the country.

“If people are trying to make that decision, the question is really about what is a match for them,” she said. “Is it a really innovative school with very experienced faculty that are cutting edge in a smaller, more intimate university? That’s what we have.”