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WSSU, Novant launch nation’s first HBCU-based physical therapy residency program

Joseph Barron stands by a computer in the Human Performance and Biodynamics Motion Lab
Joseph Barron is the first resident of the WSSU/Novant Health Physical Therapy Neurologic Residency Program. The program launched in August.  

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) and Novant Health are partnering to create the first physical therapy residency program based at a historically Black college and university (HBCU). 

The 12-month program, which will focus on neurologic care, launched Aug. 27 with the welcome of its first resident. 

“This unique physical therapy neurologic residency program combines the stellar academic resources of Winston-Salem State University with the clinical expertise of Novant Health,” said Dr. Peggy Valentine, dean of the School of Health Sciences (SOHS) at WSSU. “We are thrilled to offer this new program, which will help raise the level of patient care in the Piedmont Triad and also continue WSSU’s focus of addressing health equity to improve the care in the communities around the university.”

Neurologic physical therapists specialize in treating patients who have movement problems due to disease or injury of the nervous system. Currently, there are only four neurologic PT residency programs in North Carolina; there are less than 50 in the nation. The program has received approval from the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education.

“We are excited to further enrich our partnership with WSSU by offering a neuro residency program,” said Cress Goodnight, MSPT, MBA, OP Rehab Regional Manager. “Our program will equip residents to provide specialized care for neurologically involved patients in a rehabilitative setting. Currently, Novant Health has five NCS therapists working in the Triad and we’re thrilled to partner with WSSU to support the growth of therapeutic care and clinical expertise in this community.”

Novant Health offers comprehensive rehabilitative services in outpatient, acute care and inpatient settings. In early October, Novant Health Rehabilitation Hospital, an affiliate of Encompass Health, will open, expanding Novant Health in-patient services to include a 68-bed freestanding facility providing rehabilitation services for patients who have experienced debilitating illnesses and injuries such as stroke, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, hip fractures and amputations. 

First Resident Named

Joseph Barron – a recent graduate of the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at Methodist University who earned his bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Central University – has been chosen as the first resident. His tuition and a portion of his salary will be funded through the Novant Foundation.

“This experience has been quite amazing so far,” he said. “The support and mentorship from both Novant Health and WSSU are placing me in the optimal direction for enhancing my clinical expertise in neurological physical therapy. It's a true blessing, and I cannot wait to make a difference in the Winston-Salem community.”

Throughout the program, Barron will work in neurologic care alongside mentors at Novant facilities across Winston-Salem. He also will take courses and provide guest lectures to students in the university’s Department of Physical Therapy.

In a unique aspect of the residency, Barron will be required to identify a health equity solution to improve the care of patients who visit the program’s free community clinics, aligning with WSSU’s strategic plan.

After completing the residency, Barron will be eligible to sit for the Neurologic Certified Specialist (NCS) exam.

Preparing for the Program

Preparation for the program began more than a year ago.

“In order to prepare the residency, we had to home-grow our own team of neurologic mentors,” said Dr. Sara Migliarese, associate professor in WSSU's Department of Physical Therapy and director of the neuro-residency program.

Earlier this year, seven PT professionals – five current Novant employees and two WSSU alumni – were tutored to prepare to sit for the Neurologic Certified Specialist (NCS) exam. All seven passed on the first attempt, well above the 70 percent average pass rate for the exam, Migliarese said.

This is one of several recent firsts for WSSU’s Department of Physical Therapy.

  • 2010: First doctoral program at WSSU.
  • 2015: First early assurance program at an HBCU. The program allows WSSU undergraduates who meet criteria to enter the DPT program with one semester remaining in their undergraduate education.
  • 2017: First North Carolina-based university to offer a transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT) program marketed to international students. This fall, students from Egypt, India, Turkey and the Philippines are enrolled in the fully online program.

Physical therapy is a signature program of WSSU's School of Health Sciences, an ethnically diverse school that embraces health equity in education, research and service. For more information, please visit the SOHS website.

About Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.

About Novant Health
Novant Health is an integrated network of physician clinics, outpatient facilities and hospitals that delivers a seamless and convenient healthcare experience to communities in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. Named in 2017 by Becker’s Hospital Review as one of the nation’s 150 best places to work in healthcare, Novant Health network consists of more than 1,500 physicians and over 28,000 employees that provide care at over 580 locations, including 14 medical centers and hundreds of outpatient facilities and physician clinics. In 2017, the health system provided more than $794 million in community benefit, including financial assistance and services.

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