Pros and cons of being in a charter DPT class

A charter DPT class is the first class in a program’s history. There are actually relatively few charter “DPT” classes since most currently existing DPT programs started as BS in PT or MS in PT (or MPT) programs prior to the DPT ever being offered. Based on the Commission on Accreditation for Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) process, a charter DPT class enters while the program is in “candidacy.” For more information about this, I direct you to our page about accreditation (here).

First, the cons.

First con – risk. There is no guarantee that the candidate program you attend will achieve accreditation. This is a risk. Next question should be – what sort of risk is it? We have a rich history as a society of evaluating risks through probabilities. In fact, there is an entire industry to help people manage risk (insurance), and they base premiums on the probability of an event for which they are providing insurance (risk). Consideration of risk (event we want to avoid), and insurance to assist should the event occur, are not new concepts to the profession of physical therapy. Aspiring students should be in a position to assess risk and make decisions in the face of it. After all, the risk exists that a program you attend that has accreditation will lose it prior to you graduating. No one can actually guarantee that any DPT program will be accredited in three years.

Both of these risks (a candidate program not achieving accreditation or an accredited program losing accreditation) should be evaluated in light of their probability. To do so we must look at the data. As a profession aspiring toward more inclusion of evidence based practice we must hope that our aspiring students are familiar with looking at the data.

Right now my conversation on risk must come to an end. I have requested and am waiting for the data from the CAPTE regarding the risk of a candidate program not achieving accreditation. As soon as it is available, I will be sure to communicate it.

I have been told that the risk is low (as an update, CAPTE has informed me that looking at data back to 2012, 100% of candidacy programs have achieved initial accreditation). Which makes sense since earning candidacy requires a very solid plan be in place to meet the evaluative criteria for accreditation. Candidacy is not simply given, it is earned through a long process of development and the program essentially developed yet not implemented a program that meets the evaluative criteria. Meaning, if a candidate program implements the plans it submitted to achieve candidacy then there is no legal basis to deny accreditation. Now, accreditation is not a legal process. I agree. However, an attempt to deny accreditation without warrant would be a legal matter. There are, however, several examples of programs seaking candidacy being denied candidate status. This is further evidence that the process involves an appropriately strict and high bar to achieve candidacy to help protect potential students from the risk. It is just one example of an intelligent approach to accreditation of PT education by CAPTE. As a final word: accreditation with CAPTE is a fair and unbiased process and is based on meeting evaluative criteria by providing evidence of having met the criteria. It is not arbitrary.

Second con – no upper classman.

Being in the charter class means there are no students that have walked the trail ahead of you. There are no used books by buy or borrow from a student you know. There are no mentors in the second or third year class to tell you what to expect.

That is all I can think of for cons.

Here are the pros.

First – Being in the charter class means there are no students that have walked the trail ahead of you. You are the trail blazers. You work with the faculty to help set the program culture and tone. You are the makers of the eventual traditions, the founders of the eventual “annual” events, the beginning of the program history. In future years you will be asked to come back for events such as the 10 year anniversary to talk about how the program impacted you, and to look back at the decade of graduates that followed your lead, to share stories of how things were for you as the charter class, and to help set the trajectory for the next decade.

Second – The candidate program is – or should be – based on the most current ideas about the profession, educational theory and science. There are no “stale” classes. There is no outdated content (well, other than content that we are required to provide that is sort of outdated), it is not modularly arranged as if building additions on a home over the course of years without wanting to disturb other parts of the house. For example, Diagnostic Imaging is not a separate course as if PTs were going to have jobs where they worked with Diagnostic Imaging as a separate activity. It is integrated into courses where Diagnostic Imaging is included, amongst other examination methodologies, in patient management. This remnant modular construction of just adding a course has impacted PT education by creating this appearance of separate bodies of knowledge that make it more challenging for students and new graduates to figure out how to incorporate them into their practice.

Please keep in mind that I am not saying that currently accredited programs are not based on the most current ideas about the profession, educational theory or science.

Saying that:

If new program, then (most current ideas about the profession, educational theory or science)

Is not logically equivalent to:

If not (new program), then not (most current ideas about the profession, educational theory or science)

This is not a comparative – there are too many variables to consider to make this pro/con list a comparative.

There is an appropriate balance to there being two pros and two cons. I don’t want to come across as if I am attempting to convince everyone that attending a charter class is for them. I am just hoping that by understanding these pros and cons, the right candidates will have some information to help them with their decisions.

At Plymouth State University DPT we are looking for the right candidates for our program.

Please let me know if you have any questions! I am happy to talk with any prospective student about the risk, the process and the DPT program at PSU.

Dr. Sean Collins –


Twitter: @scollinsptscd