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Idaho State University

Jumping into Physical Therapy

Chris Gabettas

New Digs and a Doctorate: Physical Therapy Program Expands to Meridian

As a professional jump roper, Krysia Rousseau is used to defying gravity—whether she’s performing on a Disney cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean or on a stage at the Tulsa State Fair.

But for the next three years, Rousseau, 26, will be grounded in the Treasure Valley as one of 24 students in Idaho State University-Meridian’s physical therapy inaugural class which began in August.

“I was over the moon,” said Rousseau when she learned she’d landed a slot in the new cohort. “It means I can become a physical therapist at home.”

Rousseau, who was born and raised in Eagle, assumed she’d have to leave the Treasure Valley to earn her doctorate in physical therapy. That changed several years ago when the Kasiska Division of Health Sciences announced plans to expand its Doctor of Physical Therapy Program, adding 24 seats in Meridian to complement the existing 24 in Pocatello.

It took some time to secure funding, construct teaching laboratories, hire new faculty and get the final stamp of approval from the national Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, which came in early June.

“The place is beautiful. It’s amazing. I am so impressed,” Rousseau said.

First-Class Facility with a Student Focus

The new digs are part of a $3.4 million, 30,000-square-foot build-out on the second floor of the Sam and Aline Skaggs Health Science Center at ISU-Meridian. The project includes neuromanagement and orthopedic skills laboratories, faculty offices and classrooms equipped with distance-learning technology connecting Meridian to Pocatello.

“This is really a first-class facility in terms of the technology that is available to teach students in two locations at one time,” said Evan Papa, assistant physical therapy program director, who is based in Meridian.

Classrooms and labs in Pocatello have been upgraded to accommodate the expansion and ensure physical therapy students on both campuses share comparable educational experiences, said physical therapy program director, Deanna Dye, whose office is in Pocatello.

Physical Therapy Program Director Deanna Dye and Assistant Program Director Evan Papa in front of distance-learning screen in neuromanagement laboratory at ISU-Meridian.

Highlights of the Meridian construction include a neuromanagement lab where students will learn to treat stroke survivors and people with injuries or neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. There are lifts to move patients from hospital beds to wheelchairs, a walking bar with an overhead harness and a balance machine. Much of the lab’s equipment will support the occupational therapy program which expects to offer the master’s degree in Meridian in 2020, Dye said.

Next door is the orthopedic skills lab and classroom containing 12 adjustable treatment tables and orange-and-black Buoy chairs that wobble and spin. The chairs, which students have the option of using during classroom instruction, are ergonomically designed to promote active sitting and good posture.

“Physical therapists are all about proper posture,” quipped Papa.

But the real beauty of the combined setup is the heightened educational experience for students. They’re able to get classroom instruction and hands-on experience in one location without the disruption of moving from floor to floor.

Students also have access to an exercise science lab, equipped with high-level treadmills, stationary bikes and machines for occupational rehabilitation. Dye says the program’s focus is to meet student expectations and provide a top-notch educational experience on both campuses.

“We like to say we train our students in hands, head and heart,” she said. “We train their hands and head to make sure they have the knowledge base they need, and their heart to be compassionate and caring.”


Wanted: More PTs

Physical therapists help people improve their movement and manage pain after an injury, surgery, disease or a catastrophic event like a stroke, spinal cord or traumatic brain injury. And they are in high demand, thanks to the nation’s aging population.

The U.S. Department of Labor projects employment of physical therapists to grow 25 percent nationally through 2026. In Idaho, the job outlook is even better with the profession expected to grow 30 percent through 2024, paying a median hourly wage of about $38, reports the Idaho Department of Labor.

Expanding to Meridian not only increases the number of graduates in Idaho’s job pipeline but enables the university to hire more faculty members with a wider range of specialties and expertise.

“That exposes students to a greater knowledge base that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” Dye said.

ISU offers the only doctorate degree in physical therapy in Idaho and more than 500 people applied this year for the 48 slots.

Rousseau says becoming a physical therapist has been her dream since she took a sports medicine class in high school years ago.

“I absolutely love that it’s about getting to the root of a problem or pain and fixing it by strengthening muscles... instead of pushing medicine to mask symptoms,” said Rousseau who holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Boise State University.

She’d like to practice in the Treasure Valley when she graduates in 2021, which will be the 30th anniversary of ISU’s physical therapy program. 

As for her career jumping rope, Rousseau hopes to fit in a few performances this year with the Orlando-based team Flight Crew, a 2014 semifinalist on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

That’s if she gets her homework done.