What to Expect in a Hybrid Doctor of Physical Therapy Program

photo of a doctor of physical therapist student in a physical therapy room

You’ve long had your mind set on becoming a physical therapist. Partnering with patients as they take on the life-changing work required to regain mobility, build functional strength and address the root causes of nagging pain is a genuinely fulfilling way to earn a living—and that’s just a portion of what they can do.

“It is really a rewarding profession,” says Dr. Carl DeRosa, Rasmussen University Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program director. “There’s some power in working with a patient as a partner to reach their goals. You have the opportunity to interact with patients at a more profound level. You see these people around the community after you’ve worked with them and they’re so appreciative of what you taught them and did for them.”

While having the end goal of working as a physical therapist and helping others maximize their quality of life is great, taking the steps to become one can be a little more complicated. There are a lot of DPT programs out there to consider with important factors to weigh like cost, admissions requirements, faculty and location.

When it comes to where you’re learning, you might assume this factor focuses solely on the physical campus locations you’ll be learning in. But more programs are tapping into advancements in online learning approaches to provide a “hybrid” experience that aims to provide the best of hands-on traditional education experiences, community-based clinical education and the convenience of online learning.

If you’re considering a hybrid program, you likely have some important questions about what you can expect from the experience, and what makes this approach worth your consideration. In this article, we’ll help provide those answers by taking a closer look at what you can expect from the Rasmussen University Doctor of Physical Therapy program experience.

What is a “hybrid” DPT program?

As you’ve likely surmised, a hybrid DPT program is one that includes both in-person, hands-on education and skills training as well as online coursework. This helps to provide additional flexibility for aspiring physical therapists as it doesn’t require uprooting your life to live near a specific location for the duration of your program. Instead, Rasmussen University DPT students will periodically travel for focused in-person instruction and hands-on work.

“During these immersive labs, students will be practicing and refining their psychomotor skills, and also working on real-world case studies with faculty guidance to further develop their clinical reasoning skills,” Dr. DeRosa says. “That immersion class time allows faculty to work one on one with the students and provide the precise level of coaching needed for proficiency.”

At Rasmussen University, this hybrid approach uses on-site instructional time to demonstrate, build upon and reinforce the concepts covered in the program’s innovative competency-based curriculum. This curriculum aims to prepare DPT students to not only master the art, science and scientific foundations of becoming a skilled PT, but to also apply what they’ve learned in a practical setting so that they’re career ready by the time they graduate.

“We put a curriculum together recognizing that we want this to be a good return on the students’ investment in their education,” says Dr. DeRosa. “Rather than string the education out for a long period of time, we've been able to compartmentalize the courses in an efficient manner and create a model that really allows the student to complete the program in as few as two years and then be out in the workforce.”1

What will my schedule look like as a Rasmussen University DPT student?

So how does it all come together over the course of the Rasmussen University DPT program?1 Students in this program are enrolled full time and will take part in a mix of online courses, in-person training and immersive clinical education experiences over the course of eight quarterly terms. During five of these eight quarterly terms, students can expect to be on site in the Minneapolis/St. Paul (Minnesota) area for a short period (ranging from six to 11 days) of intensive in-person training and evaluation.1

These periods of in-person training provide key opportunities for students to demonstrate and refine their learning through examples and scenarios that often mirror what they’ll see in a work environment.

“It becomes a real dialogue between the faculty members and the students where we’re coaching them through it with questions like ‘What do you think about this as an intervention?’ or ‘Did you consider this during the evaluation?’” Dr. DeRosa says.

 In addition to the online courses and in-person learning sessions, DPT students will also round out their training with 30 weeks of full-time clinical education. This clinical education component provides a wealth of practical, hands-on experience in a professional physical therapy practice as students work with real patients and manage a full caseload under the supervision of established PTs. During this time, students will hone the in-field competencies of communication, resource management, evidence-informed patient management and clinical reasoning.

“It’s a big learning opportunity,” Dr. DeRosa says. “Students learn how to be more effective in care, and how to be more effective in communicating with patients and their family members.” 

Dr. DeRosa notes that the wide variety of clinical settings students will work in during these periods can provide additional career clarity as they are exposed to different focus areas.

“For example, one quarter a student may be in an acute care setting in the hospital, then the next in an outpatient facility, and then the next in a school district working with pediatric patients—they get a wide array of clinical experiences and so there’s new learning all the time,” says Dr. DeRosa. “It’s an opportunity to figure out what they like and find where the joy of practice is for them.”

What makes Rasmussen University’s hybrid approach appealing to students?

This field of study requires hands-on instruction and in-person learning to be effective, so that means adding online elements to the curriculum requires a thoughtful approach. The DPT program at Rasmussen University was designed from the ground up to incorporate online learning elements in a deliberate, cohesive manner.

"We’re working so closely now with the employers and what their needs are—we’re really getting down to the skills that you actually need to practice on day one."

The online-intentional approach to curriculum development, along with a focus on career readiness, provided a strong framework for building efficiency into a DPT program that can be completed in as few as 24-months.2

Associate Professor Dr. Brett Windsor, who has worked both in academia and in a corporate PT practice environment, says he’s excited to apply this practical, competency-focused approach to physical therapy education.

“I really feel like there has been a gap between what the students coming out of their graduate degree programs know and what we need in the workplace,” Dr. Windsor says. “We’re working so closely now with the employers and what their needs are—we’re really getting down to the skills that you actually need to practice on day one.”

Flexibility in where you learn

Having to pack up your life and resettle for the duration of a DPT program isn’t always practical. Instead of students having to uproot everything in their lives to accommodate their pursuit of education, the Rasmussen University DPT program helps keep that disruption to a minimum by providing an effective mix of online and in-person instruction. A supportive model for growth

While the word “online” in education might evoke memories or concerns of working solitarily, the Rasmussen University DPT program was built to intentionally provide students the support and interaction they need for success.

“We’re keeping the faculty to student ratio at a small, workable level that will help keep students from getting lost in a big crowd,” says Dr. DeRosa. “All of the courses in this program have several faculty that are involved in teaching that course, and in an online format they’re going to have opportunities to deliver live sessions to a larger group as well break into smaller faculty-guided study groups.

Students enrolled in the DPT program will progress as a single cohort, which will provide opportunities for peers to grow together over time. Along the way, they’ll take part in live synchronous sessions with professors online, receive in-person guidance and can tap into a variety of graduate student support services.

“I think the opportunities for faculty to work directly with students is actually greater in this online hybrid format because it’s very continuous and you’re in session almost on a daily basis,” Dr. DeRosa explains. “When there are several faculty teaching a course, that’s powerful—students can reach out to any and all faculty at any time to be mentored, bounce ideas off of, and just learn from them.”

Take the next step

Now that you know more about how the Rasmussen University Doctor of Physical Therapy program’s hybrid blend of online and in-person learning works, are you ready to get started? Visit the Doctor of Physical Therapy program page for more information.

1Students are responsible for costs associated with all travel expenses for the immersion lab experience and clinical education experiences.
2Completion time depends on maintaining full-time study and completing all scheduled courses with the cohort.

Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
Graduation from a physical therapist education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) (3030 Potomac Ave., Suite 100, Alexandria, Virginia 22305-3085; phone; 703-706-3245; accreditation@apta.org), is necessary for eligibility to sit for the licensure examination, which is required in all states.

Rasmussen University-Graduate Studies North (MN) is seeking accreditation of a new physical therapist education program from CAPTE. On June 1st, 2022, the program submitted an Application for Candidacy, which is the formal application required in the pre-accreditation stage. Submission of this document does not assure that the program will be granted Candidate for Accreditation status. Achievement of Candidate for Accreditation status is required prior to implementation of the professional phase of the program; therefore, no students may be enrolled in professional courses until Candidate for Accreditation status has been achieved. Further, though achievement of Candidate for Accreditation status signifies satisfactory progress toward accreditation, it does not ensure that the program will be granted accreditation.

About the author

Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen University. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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