When the Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center opened on March 23, 2016, inside you would find classrooms, labs, offices, a clinic managed by St. Luke’s University Health Network, and unfinished space on the second floor. The fledgling Department of Rehabilitation Sciences had a single to-be-accredited graduate program in athletic training and two faculty members—James “Jay” Scifers, program director of rehabilitation sciences and department chair of athletic training; and Jennifer Ostrowski, who is today the associate professor and director of athletic training. And on May 31, 2016, seven students would show up to begin their work toward a master’s degree in athletic training.
Today, five years later, the department offers six graduate programs:
All are accredited except the DPT, which launched this year and is targeted to receive accreditation in the fall of 2023.
Athletic training students examining an X-ray
A model of the brain
Trying out the equipment in the pediatric lab
The faculty has expanded from 2 to 22 nationally recognized full-time members, who are supported by two full-time staff members. Roughly 50 specialized adjunct professors complete the faculty roster.
Labs and classrooms have now filled out the second floor of the world-class center, and additional state-of-the-art equipment has been installed. “We purposely left the second floor unfinished,” says Scifers, “because when we opened, we didn’t have faculty in OT, PT, or speech-language pathology, and we wanted input from them.
In the beginning, the first floor housed a research lab, an orthopedic assessment lab, a therapeutic modalities lab, a functional rehabilitation lab, practical exam rooms, and classrooms— including one equipped with microphones, speakers, and a screen that allows experts from anywhere in the world to engage with students remotely.
With the input of OT and SLP faculty, the second-floor space, which opened in August 2019, boasts several new research labs:
Problem-based learning classrooms are small and equipped with white boards to facilitate collaboration among groups of eight students. “Ours is the first and only SLP program in the United States to follow a problem-based learning curriculum,” says Louise Keegan, program director of speech-language pathology. “This means that the bulk of the curriculum is delivered through case studies, so students learn content by working through these cases in groups. They have the opportunity to immediately consider how their academic knowledge is clinically applied.”
Further enriching learning, the rehab sciences department added several pieces of advanced equipment to teach patient treatment and assessment:
Moravian students also have access to special equipment in the St. Luke’s clinic, such as the antigravity treadmill, which helps patients regain their walking and running mechanics without impact.
Our Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center is a world-class facility, but what makes our graduate program shine above all others is the seamless interprofessional education. “We are the only school in the country that has this mix of programs—athletic training, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language pathology—all in the same department and under the same roof,” says Scifers. “Typically, what you see at other schools is that these programs are stand-alone departments and physically in different locations, so collaboration becomes more difficult. We have purposely built interprofessional education into our students’ experience.”
Teams are formed with students from every discipline: athletic training, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology. Once a month, each team must work together on a case study, and in so doing, they educate each other.
The experience mimics what happens professionally. For example, an athlete whose injury on the field includes a concussion will see an athletic trainer and, depending on the severity of the injury, may also need to see a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, and a speech-language pathologist.
The NeuroCom, used to assess and treat balance issues
A physical therapy class
Demonstrating technique in athletic training
“This kind of collaboration happens at other institutions, but our system is more formalized,” says Scifers. “Students stay with the same team the entire time they are here, so they build those relationships. First-years are just dipping their toes into the professional experience. Second-years are becoming licensed professionals, so they are at the point where they are educating others about what they do.”
That interprofessional education is significantly enriched by the partnership with the St. Luke’s clinic. The clinic specializes in sports medicine, physical therapy, and orthopedic care, and students can simply walk down the hall or down the stairs to observe practicing professionals. Those professionals also come into classes to give guest lectures, and St. Luke’s offers clinical placements to our second-year students.
The clinic also enjoys the benefit of being neighbors. “Moravian’s department of sports medicine and rehabilitation sciences is an educational resource,” says Matthew Johnston, director of the St. Luke’s clinic. “We do lots of collaboration on research, particularly in injury prevention. We screen athletes to identify those who are more at risk of injury and work on therapies that will prevent injury, and that work has expanded from cross-country runners to including baseball and soccer players.”
“We have a nice synergy,” says Scifers. “The relationship with St. Luke’s is invaluable. It’s a strength of ours. Institutions with medical schools have this connection, but for a school our size to have such a close relationship with a healthcare network is rare.”
Building a nationally renowned faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, an ideal structure for interprofessional learning, and collaboration between clinicians and educators has been a formula for success. Despite the pandemic, the department has met expectations in terms of enrollment. Moravian sees a steady and robust flow of applicants. For the upcoming admissions cycle in occupational therapy, 200 to 300 applicants are expected for 30 spots (acceptances are set by accreditation and by limits in clinical education).
The excellence of Moravian’s Department of Rehabilitation Sciences has also boosted undergraduate enrollment. Prospective students see the value of pursuing their goals at Moravian where undergrad tracks in health sciences lead directly into graduate programs, which speeds degree completion.
Demonstrating technique in physical therapy
Speech-language pathology students use a nasometer to measure how much air comes out of the nose versus the mouth when speaking.
The pediatrics lab combines work and play.
“Health sciences has the largest enrollment of all undergraduate programs at Moravian,” says Scifers. “The target for enrollment was 30 students by 2020, and we’re over 200. For the 2016–17 academic year, about 10 students enrolled in health sciences. Today, 50 to 60 students are coming in as freshman interested in health sciences, and another 10 are transitioning from other majors.”
Of course, the true success of any academic department or program lies in the success of its students. “Our current students and alumni have been successful in getting articles published and conference presentations accepted, as well as winning state, district, and national scholarships,” says Ostrowski.
For all programs, 100 percent of students have passed their boards, 100 percent have become licensed, and 100 percent are employed in their fields.
The momentum continues. Moravian University offers a master’s degree in clinical counseling and is working to develop a new department in behavioral health, which will include counseling. Other programs being considered include a master’s in social work and a doctor of science in psychology.
“This is part of President Grigsby’s vision to build a program focused on training more students to meet the mental health needs in the Lehigh Valley,” says Daniel Jasper, dean of the School of Arts, Humanities, and the Social Sciences. “We are working with partners—St. Luke’s University Health Network, Bethlehem Area School District, Intermediate Unit 20—to both understand the needs of our community and develop curricular pathways to prepare the next generation of professionals to meet those needs.”
And what does this have to do with athletic training or rehabilitation? The mental health of athletes has headlined many major media stories in recent years. It is part of the athletic training curriculum we offer, and much of Ostrowski’s research addresses the psychology of injury. But the behavioral health disciplines will also serve interprofessional education and collaboration, the hallmarks of our Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, which prepares our students to be the best healthcare providers. “Often in our case studies, we wish we had a social worker, counselor, or nurse on our teams,” says Scifers. “In healthcare, we work as a team; the more professionals we have, the better. We want to take interprofessional education campuswide and are looking forward to new programs.”
As we all will look forward to the growth of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences over the next five years.