A dislocated finger in junior high helped inspire Michael Ormonde to pursue a career in physical therapy.

“The attention and care my physical therapist gave me was outstanding,” said Ormonde, who also was exposed to the profession when his father underwent back surgery and his mother had both knees replaced. “He knew exactly what I needed.”

PT_news-01A $900,000 gift to the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Ormonde’s school, Fresno State University, will bring him even closer to his dream. The funds, from the Red and Nancy Arnold Foundation, will help support students in the DPT program through 2018 and offset clinical fees and tuition, as well as laboratory upgrades, according to a Fresno State news release. The program received an additional $50,000 in matching funds from the College of Health and Human Services’ Presidential Collaborative.

Ormonde, along with 32 other students graduating in May, received $3,000 from the donation. The money will help cover some of Ormonde’s expenses as he prepares to take his licensing exam.

“It will allow me to focus more on studying without feeling like I’m crunched for money,” he said. “There’s a lot less stress.”

Peggy Trueblood, PhD, PT, chairwoman of the physical therapy department, said students pay a total of about $65,000 while attending the three-year program. Students are expected to benefit from the gift until 2018, she said.

“The gift is phenomenal for them,” Trueblood said. “They have a lot of expenses. It helps them with their clinicals, their travel expenses, their books. It impacts all of the students who are in the program currently as well as future students. Every one of them will get money from this gift.”

When Trueblood began working as a PT in the 1970s, the highest degree needed was a bachelor’s degree. But as the healthcare system evolved, so did physical therapy, with the scope of practice for therapists expanding, resulting in a need for higher credentials.

In 2000, Trueblood said, the House of Delegates of the American Physical Therapy Association adopted a vision statement recommending all physical therapists have doctoral degrees by 2020. In 2010, the California chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association proposed legislation to authorize the California State University System to independently grant the DPT degree. The bill was signed into law on Oct. 4, 2010, by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Fresno State accepted its first DPT class in the fall of 2012, Trueblood said.

“It’s much better for healthcare in general, but it’s also better for the consumer because they can be their own advocate,” she said. “They don’t have to go to their physicians [for a referral]. PTs come out knowing much more in terms of their education. It’s much easier to specialize. They have a much greater knowledge base.”

For Ormonde, whose parents came to the U.S. from Portugal in their 20s, becoming a PT is about giving back to others. He is grateful to receive some extra money as he nears graduation.

“I always wanted to do something that would help out the community,” Ormonde said. “That’s exactly what physical therapists do. People who are in need physically and mentally, physical therapists are there for them.”

Geneva Slupski is a freelance writer.