At DPT Commencement, Celebration of a Profession with Many Jobs

By Christopher Sarachilli | January 18, 2016

Kimberly Poehlmann receives her hood from associate professor Scott Stackhouse.

While physical therapists are well-known to help patients recovering from a car accident, sports injury, or recent stroke, they often take on work beyond these traditional roles.

That could mean studying better methods to diagnose a patient’s level of consciousness, making the difference between being confined to a bed for years, or regaining the majority of function lost in a motorcycle accident, research conducted by Kelley Borgard and Kimberly Poehlmann.

Or, it could mean analyzing the effects of group exercise on strength, balance, and coordination in adolescents and young adults with Down Syndrome, a study done by Casey Haddaway, Diane Kim, and Lauren Salter.

The varied roles of the physical therapist were apparent at the “Clinical Practice: Critical Inquiry” research presentations on Jan. 14 as well as in the words of faculty members, experienced physical therapists, and student speakers at the Doctor of Physical Therapy Commencement on Jan. 17 in the Kuch Center Alumni Gymnasium, where more than a hundred students received their doctoral degrees.  

“All of you can become unlikely champions, changing the life of a single person for the better,” said keynote speaker Dr. Susan Herdman, professor emerita at Emory University. “That, ultimately, is one of the best jobs you can have.”

The graduating class saw this “job” firsthand through clinical rotations from Glenside to San Francisco, pro bono work in Philadelphia, and international service in communities without available therapy. Nearly a third of the graduating class participated in the program’s four service trips in Guatemala, Haiti, London, and Jamaica.

“When I speak with our physical therapy students and alumni, I often hear that the patients have an equally transformative effect on you, the therapist, and that your lives have been improved by the work that you do and the satisfaction you feel,” said President Nicolette DeVille Christensen. “This is a noble profession you have chosen, but do not simply enter into this profession; be the ones to lead it.”

Daniel Wingate Safford received the Jill Sisenwine Berger Award, which recognizes a student who exemplifies the core values of the physical therapy profession. In addition to traditional and transitional DPT students, three new graduates from the Orthopaedic Residency were recognized: Michael Alex Haddad, Daniel Matthew Goldstein, and Jamie Rosenberg ’14DPT.

“As PTs, we’ll have the unique opportunity to engage with our patients during frustrating, painful, embarrassing, exhausting, and exhilarating moments,” said Janet Hertz, who delivered the student address. “Be open to learning from your patients at least as often as you provide education. Let’s encourage each other, pursue joy, and win the day,” she said, calling back to the mantra of a patient she had worked with at a clinic for those recovering from stroke or spinal cord injury.

An archive of the 15th DPT Commencement may be viewed online at