A decade after opening in Goodyear, Franklin Pierce University is adding new health-sciences programs and expanding its existing doctoral program in physical therapy.
Located near Interstate 10 in the Goodyear Medical Innovation Corridor, the university, 14455 W. Van Buren St., Building A, Suite 100, is looking to launch a hybrid online/in-person master’s program for physician assistants in August 2022, according to a city of Goodyear release. FPU recently hired Marci Contreras away from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, offering the opportunity to build and oversee a new program.
“I was pretty strong on the hybrid model, and that was the vision that was appealing to them,” she said. “Only one other MPAS program is online, and that is Yale. But I suspect, since COVID, that a lot more will be cropping up.”
The crux of the hybrid model involves online teaching, then immersion weeks during which students visit the campus to work on skills and reinforce what they learned online. It is designed to offer students greater flexibility at a lower cost — possibly as much as 25% less.
FPU also is working on a hybrid version of the existing, face-to-face DPT program on its Arizona center. That program is just over two 2 years in length, with classes on line and the lab session on the Goodyear campus.
According to Dr. Letha Zook, the school’s director of physical therapy in Arizona, FPU would like to start one or two hybrid cohorts later this year in this new format.
Location, Location, Location
Eventually, the university hopes to base its hybrid health-sciences programs in Goodyear as a complement to the residential offerings on its main campus in Rindge, N.H.
The Goodyear location was crucial for second-year DPT student Kimberly Marston.
“I’m an Arizonan born and raised,” she said, “and it was very important to me to stay in state if possible. I would not have considered FPU’s New Hampshire campus.”
The Arizona program drew Dr. Cameron Moore from Washington state and his future wife, Michelle, from Wisconsin. He was in the first cohort (2009 to 1012), she in the second (2010-2013). Since graduating, they have established their own physical therapy practice, Continuous Motion, in Goodyear.
“I found Arizona to be a very good fit for me as a student, and now a professional, for starting our business and our family,” he said.
As a more-recent enrollee, Ms. Marston can point to the school’s record of accomplishment.
“The main reason I chose to attend FPU is its high student-pass rate on the NPTE, which is the board exam you take to become a licensed physical therapist,” she said. “FPU has had a 100 percent pass rate for several years.”
The school’s presence and Goodyear’s fast-growing footprint complement each another.
Dr. Zook said it’s crucial to identify community needs.
“If it’s within our wheelhouse, we can meet some of those needs,” she said. Much of that comes from the service students and alumni perform in the area.
The Moores said they benefited from training with professors on campus and with local PTs during clinical rotations.
“I was able to get a broad spectrum of experiences that way that helped me as a PT and also got me out of my comfort zone,” Cameron Moore said.
“I think hands-on training is really one of the things that FPU does best,” Ms. Marston said. “During our very first term on campus, we start working with real patients for our hands-on practical exams. This program does a good job of progressing us in our clinical decision-making and hands-on work with real patients. It wasn’t until I was in PT school that I realized how rare that is.”
Students also have several opportunities to work with outside PT practitioners, including a part-time clinical rotation in their first year, she said.
The work enables students to develop professional relationships as well as skills.
Because she and her husband were in the first and second cohorts to graduate from the program, there wasn’t a network of FPU alumni yet, Michelle Moore said, but that has changed.
“Several of my classmates now regularly mentor FPU students,” she said. “As Cameron and I continue to grow our new performance-based physical therapy practice, we hope to have the opportunity to mentor FPU students in the future.”
Meeting community needs
A recent assessment conducted by FPU cited a WESTMARC projection that more than 40% of Maricopa County’s growth over the next 25 years will occur in the West Valley.
The assessment found FPU’s Goodyear campus positioned to take advantage of this growth since there is no other DPT program within 25 miles.
The needs assessment also noted the large proportion of residents age 65 or older in the West Valley, a reality that has exaggerated the need for physical therapists. The accelerating wave of retiring baby boomers will only increase the demand for PT services, the release stated.
Ms. Contreras said there is a nationwide need for physician assistants.
“We’ve probably doubled the number of MPAS programs in the last decade, and even established programs are increasing enrollment and reducing the lengths of their programs,” she said, pointing out that the term “physician assistant” is a bit of a misnomer.
“We’re not really assisting; we are managing patients on our own. It’s more autonomous than what people would think from our name,” Ms. Contreras said.
The idea was born in the military in the 1960s. There was a shortage of doctors in the field, so the military started teaching medics the basics of what doctors did. The goal today, she said, is to increase the availability of medical care, “especially in primary care. We can provide more and better access.”
Down the road, FPU officials envision a full health-sciences campus in Goodyear. As a possible next step, they are studying whether there is sufficient need in the West Valley to warrant a master’s program in nursing.