The earliest effort to launch a two-year graduate program for the basic education of the physical therapist appeared at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1960. Catherine Worthingham approached the university because it already had established graduate programs in other health professions, including speech pathology, social work, and medicine. Physical therapist Louise Suchomel recruited an outstanding faculty, beginning with Geneva Johnson, Dorothy Pinkston, Agnes Connor, Marian Russell, and Don Lehmkuhl.
The curriculum was designed and periodically revised with the close involvement of local clinicians. Along with the fundamentals of anatomy, physiology, and physical therapeutics, the curriculum offered a wider view of health care, exposing students to the world of scientific inquiry and research and culminating in preparation of a thesis. Students were also given personal contacts with established clinicians in the field through clinic work and opportunities to meet and observe distinguished visiting lecturers. As it was hoped that many of the students would dedicate some part of their career to teaching, teaching principles and communications skills, including poise in oral presentations, also were integral to the program.
Unfortunately, just as the program was hitting its stride financial problems struck. Student tuition covered only a fraction of the program’s costs, and federal funding to universities was sharply reduced due to the escalating costs of the Vietnam War. Even though physical therapy was one of the few programs not directly affected at Case Western Reserve University, other programs with larger enrollments and longer traditions at the university suffered severely. In a triage decision, university leadership chose to terminate the physical therapy program, and it was phased out following graduation of the class of 1971. Despite the loss of its PT program, Case Western Reserve University provided an example for the profession on the concept of postbaccalaureate education. In 1979 the House of Delegates adopted a policy that set December 31, 1990, as a target date for all PT academic programs to move to the postbaccalaureate degree.