The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Health Professions has launched an online, health-focused graduate certificate that prepares physical and occupational therapists to provide expanded services to clients in the rapidly growing areas of prevention, health promotion and wellness.

PT OT CertThe 18-month program, Health Focused Patient/Client Management for Physical and Occupational Therapists, provides physical and occupational therapists with the skills needed to address lifestyle behaviors that underlie many chronic diseases.

Laura Dyson, DPT, a student living in Fort Worth, Texas, and a physical therapist with nearly 30 years experience, says it is time for therapists to treat the patient rather than the condition.

“I can have the best exercises, I can have the best equipment, but if I don’t understand where my patient is coming from then I don’t understand how to help them,” Dyson says. “I have a friend who is morbidly obese who says, ‘Obesity is not a disease, it’s a decision — I choose not to exercise.’ He thinks that because nobody has worked with him to find out more about the barriers that prevent him from exercising.”

The method Dyson refers to, known as motivational interviewing, is a counseling technique that began in psychology and is used by physical and occupational therapists to develop strategies to effect health-related behavior changes. It is one of several new areas of training offered in the UAB certificate program.

Brooks Wingo, Ph.D., an instructor in the program with expertise in behavioral interventions for obesity, says, “There is so much prevention that can be done for chronic disease, but if you pigeonhole it to one strategy it is not going to work. We all must rethink the traditional way of prescribing treatments.”

Certificate program coordinator Cecilia Graham, PT, Ph.D., says instruction in motivational interviewing is just one example of the way classes benefit students and the individuals under their care.

“Our goal is to position physical and occupational therapists to integrate a health-focused approach into everyday practice,” says Graham, the Bergman Pinkston Endowed Professor in the UAB Department of Physical Therapy. “The feedback from students is positive, and the program is providing new perspectives to rehabilitation practice.”

For more information on the Health Focused Patient/Client Management for Physical and Occupational Therapists graduate certificate visit

Expanded practice acts in Alabama and other states provide more opportunities for clients to access health-promotion and wellness services provided by physical and occupational therapists. UAB offers this certificate online to accommodate full-time clinicians wherever they may live.

“You don’t have to relocate your family or commute a long way for classes,” says Edward Goodman III, a physical therapist for the past 31 years and student in the program. “Plus, I have an established physical therapy business in Huntsville, and that will continue uninterrupted while I finish my certificate.”

Though there are many weekend seminars available for therapists to attend, Dyson, who earned a Master’s in Physical Therapy from UAB in 1985, is quick to point out there is a big difference between what you learn in 18 hours versus what you learn in 18 months.

“Some of my colleagues ask why I am doing this instead of a weekend course, and I tell them it’s like comparing a seven-course meal to a Happy Meal,” Dyson says. “You cannot learn everything you need to know in a weekend workshop.”

For more information on the Health Focused Patient/Client Management for Physical and Occupational Therapists graduate certificate visit Applications for the program are accepted daily, and students can begin the program any semester.