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Programs News Elena Potter February 19, 2024

As the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Physical Therapy Department approaches its 60th year, it is essential to look back and appreciate the incredible journey it has undertaken since its inception. The department's evolution within the ever-changing society and profession showcases its commitment to excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service.

Joan Bergman Geneva JohnsonJoan Bergman and Geneva JohnsonA pivotal figure in the establishment of physical therapy in Alabama is Joan Bergman. Having earned a Bachelor of Science in PT from Boston University in 1954, she continued her academic pursuits with a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education (1969) and a Doctorate in Behavioral Studies (1974) from the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa. In 1955, she commenced her work in physical therapy at the UAB University Hospital in Birmingham, AL.

Bergman's contributions to the field were instrumental as she became the first Director of Physical Therapy at the University Hospital and would soon become the first Director of educational programs in Physical Therapy at UAB.

In 1964, Bergman initiated a Bachelor's degree program in Physical Therapy, designed to be completed in four years. The curriculum combined arts and sciences education during the initial two years, followed by specialized physical therapy training in the final two years. The program's approval in 1963 allowed the admission of two junior students to complete the final two years of the program in September 1964 and six students to be the first class to complete the full program in September 1965. It is noteworthy that although the program operated at UAB's campus, it was formally awarded through The University of Alabama until 1969 when UAB was founded.

Bergman served as Program Director until 1966 when the university brought in Miriam Jacobs, PT, with an advanced degree, to ensure full accreditation. Under her guidance, the program achieved full accreditation in 1967. After Jacobs' departure in 1968, Marylin Gossman, PT, took over as Program Director until 1998. In 1999, UAB Physical Therapy moved from being a division to a department and Sharon Shaw became the first Department Chair. Shaw ran the program from 1998 to 2012. Upon Shaw’s retirement in 2012, Diane Clark served as interim Program Director for one year, until Dave Morris became Director and has maintained the program’s success to today.

Her visionary leadership laid the groundwork for the development of physical therapy programs in the state of Alabama and at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

UAB PT Legends

Over the years, UAB PT continued to flourish, expanding its course offerings to meet the growing demands of the profession, the healthcare industry, and society. Today, the department offers a Doctorate in Physical Therapy program, undergraduate and doctoral programs in Rehabilitation Science, residencies in Orthopedic and Neurologic Physical Therapy, and a Graduate Certificate in population health.

Furthermore, UAB PT is housed in a state-of-the-art facility within a nationally ranked research-focused university. The department's collaboration with various university-wide centers and clinical specialty areas showcases its commitment to research and education.

The growth has been substantial, as UAB PT transitioned from its humble beginnings with just six students in its first class to becoming a leading institution producing approximately 1,860 Doctorate in Physical Therapy graduates. This expansion reflects the dedication and passion of the faculty, staff, and students involved.

As the department embarks on its sixth decade, the culture of excellence established by Joan Bergman remains the guiding principle. The faculty, staff, and students continue to carry forward the legacy she initiated many years ago. With a commitment to pushing the boundaries of knowledge and service, the UAB Physical Therapy Department is poised to impact the field of physical therapy for years to come.


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