The profession’s efforts to enhance postbaccalaureate education in physical therapy are at least as old as the mid-1940s, when Stanford University pioneered a post-entry-level certificate program in physical therapy. Other schools followed with postbaccalaureate certificate programs, notably at Boston University, the University of Southern California, New York University (NYU), and Texas Woman’s University. Another educational benchmark was reached with NYU’s launch in 1973 of the first postprofessional PhD program uniquely designed for physical therapists.
Also factoring into the pressure to enhance professional education in the 1960s and 1970s was the growing desire on the part of some physical therapists to practice independently without the referral of a physician. Some members of APTA wondered aloud if such practice did not breach the association’s ethical boundaries. Following significant study of this issue by the Board and its task force, the House of Delegates ultimately determined that autonomous practice was appropriate in principle, and the association’s Code of Ethics was revised to remove any lingering ambiguities on the issue.
The argument then arose that physical therapists of the future needed better educational preparation if autonomous practice was to become widespread. This became a persuasive argument in favor of making the postbaccalaureate degree a fundamental educational requirement. Concern that natural evolution toward this goal would take too long led the House to charge the Board of Directors with finding methods of accelerating change. The Board’s report to the 1979 House led to a long and heated debate and, ultimately, a resolution calling for all entry-level (now professional) education programs for the physical therapist to be raised to a minimum of the postbaccalaureate degree by December 31, 1990.