After earning her bachelor’s degree at Appalachian State University, Alison Faulkenberry ’24 DPT had a tough time deciding whether to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy or Master of Science in Athletic Training.
She wanted both degrees because, as she puts it, having both would make her a “more well-rounded clinician.” But thinking about the time and cost of completing two graduate degrees was daunting.
“Post-graduate degrees take a lot out of you,” said Faulkenberry, now a third-year DPT student at the University of Lynchburg. “They are challenging and push you beyond what you thought you were capable of.
“All that being said, I personally know that if I did not go straight into the MSAT program, I would probably not get my MSAT.”
As it turns out, Faulkenberry didn’t have to choose between the two.
This past spring, Lynchburg’s Doctor of Physical Therapy and Master of Science in Athletic Training programs formed a partnership that gives students who want to obtain both degrees the opportunity to do that quicker — and less expensively.
Lynchburg students can now fast-track the DPT and MSAT — in that order — completing both degrees within four years, instead of five. After graduating from the DPT program next May, Faulkenberry will start the MSAT.
The MSAT program, which usually takes two years to complete, is “allowing some of the DPT courses to substitute, because the content overlaps,” explained Dr. Debbie Bradney, chair of Lynchburg’s athletic training department.
She added that Lynchburg is one of just a few institutions in the country to offer this option.
Similar to Faulkenberry, Callie Neal ’24 DPT was attracted to Lynchburg’s dual-degree program because, while she wanted to be a physical therapist, she also had an interest in athletic training — an interest she developed as a member of Virginia Tech’s Sports Medicine Club.
“We got to work firsthand with the athletic trainers on staff, as well as the athletes, learning skills and helping as needed,” Neal said. “I chose to pursue the accelerated program because, with my love for physical therapy, I have always considered getting my MSAT as well. …
“This is a great option for me, due to the financial benefit of having half the classes as well as building on my previous learning. I’m excited to pursue this opportunity with the previous experience I’ll have after completing my DPT.”
In addition to saving students time and money, the dual degree can mean broader career opportunities. While PTs and ATs have “a lot of shared skills, they also have very unique skills,” said Dr. Jason Grandeo, an associate clinical professor of physical therapy at Lynchburg.
“Having the dual degree makes you … an even stronger candidate for a position, because you have in-depth experience in both on-the-field examination and care, as well as long-term rehabilitation care.
“You may be able to take on multiple roles in a sports organization or school, which may be attractive to employers.”
Bradney agreed. “For those who want to work with an active population, it gives them more job options in a more specific field,” she said. “In my opinion, a lot of PTs want to work with athletes, but sometimes it’s the long-term rehabs with a physical therapist.
“Athletic trainers do the short-term rehab with athletes and physically active people as their primary population. A general population in a PT clinic might not be as active.”
Completing the DPT first also better prepares students for the MSAT.
“PT programs are designed to create an entry-level doctor of physical therapy who is a generalist — meaning you learn how to examine and treat patients with neurological injuries, orthopedic injuries, cardiopulmonary issues, and so on,” Grandeo said.
He added, “Having some of this knowledge from PT school going into an AT program may put you ahead of others who are being introduced to the material for the first time.”