The University of Pittsburgh has an 90-year history of physical therapist education, having started in 1927. The Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Pittsburgh is one of the oldest physical therapist educational programs in the United States. The physical therapy program first operated at the D.T. Watson School in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.
The D.T. Watson School of Physiatrics faculty and students assisted in the care of persons with polio during the epidemics of the 40s. The physical therapist faculty were experts at muscle testing and worked with the orthotists to optimize function of children living with polio. Dr. Jessie Wright, MD, PT was the medical director of the clinic. Dr. Wright developed a rocking bed in order to attempt to assist cardiopulmonary function in children with polio and enriched the physical therapist community by inviting leaders in the physical therapist community to conduct seminars at D.T. Watson, including Berta and Dr. Karl Bobath.
In 1969 the physical therapist program successfully transitioned to the University of Pittsburgh, with Dr. Anne Pascasio, a former DT Watson faculty member and physical therapist serving as the first Dean of the School of Health Related Professions.
In 1971, the physical therapy program transitioned from a one-year entry level professional program to a two-year entry level bachelors program. By 1972, Dr. Rosemary Scully was appointed as the Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy. By 1973, an interdisciplinary master’s program was initiated and later in 1976 the School developed the combined MS/BS entry level program for students who wanted advanced education. In 1989, the University Of Pittsburgh Board Of Trustees approved the entry level master’s degree program with our first graduating class in 1993. Our last academic transition to the doctor of physical occurred in 2003.
The University of Pittsburgh has a proud tradition of developing leaders with 4 graduates being elected as President of the American Physical Therapy Association including Mary Elizabeth Kolb, Robert Richardson, Jan Richardson, and Paul Rockar.
Our physical therapist program also has 5 Catherine Worthingham Scholars actively teaching, which is the highest honor that can be bestowed by the American Physical Therapy Association except for the Mary McMillan Award. It is given to those who have achieved the highest level within the physical therapy community in education, practice or research. Drs. Delitto, Fitzgerald, Irrgang, Van Swearingen, and Whitney have all received the award. Drs. Pascasio and Scully are emeriti faculty who have also received the award. Dr. Delitto has been recognized nationally and internationally for his accomplishments in the area of practice, especially advancing the care of persons with low back pain and is a Mary McMillan lecturer.