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The College of St. Scholastica

Since 2007, the Transitional Doctorate of Physical Therapy (tDPT) program at The College of St. Scholastica has provided a rich online experience for working clinicians to advance their knowledge and credentials from wherever in the world they happen to be. “The majority of students in our program are international and have earned their degrees in their home countries,” according to Dr. Jena Ogston, professor and director of the tDPT program. “The Doctorate of Physical Therapy is the preferred credential to practice in the U.S. and it is now a requirement for some practices. This program is designed to provide relevant information in a dynamic and engaging way that still gives students the flexibility they need as working professionals.”

With an average class size of 18 and a completely asynchronous curriculum, students typically complete the program within two years. “The classroom stays interesting with a diversity of learners and perspectives on physical therapy (PT),” Ogston shared. “Seeing the discussion about practices in their home countries, their love of learning and the excitement to bring classroom work into their practice is frankly overwhelming.”

As a practitioner and an instructor, Ogston strives for excellence and can point to evidence of its existence: “In a program like this, it is crucial to provide an individualized education that prioritizes active learning and instructor involvement, all steeped in our Benedictine values. At the end of the program, we have students who tell us, without prompting, that they felt the Benedictine community. We care about our students and their professional growth; we have high standards and work with them to ensure they are on track. I am proud of our active online program and the faculty, students and alumni who represent it.”

Not every student makes the journey to Duluth for commencement, but the Class of 2023 boasted graduates traveling from Europe, the Caribbean and American Samoa. Read on to hear from two intrepid travelers and alums — Duvaughn Dick (DPT ’23) and Kim Watkins (DPT ’23) — about their journey through the program and to commencement.

Duvaughn Dick (DPT ’23)

Hailing from Jamaica, W.I., Duvaughn Dick earned his B.S. in Physical Therapy at the University of the West Indies in 2012. Currently, he manages a private practice and outpatient clinic in Jamaica, but an international move is imminent — his wife of two years, Daneilia, lives in Florida. “In 2015, I began traveling to Florida to take different weekend courses unavailable in Jamaica to advance my knowledge and clinical skill set,” Dick said. “When COVID-19 emerged, all the options I was looking into were canceled and that is when I decided to examine the tDPT programs to take my education to the next level.”

Duvaughn Dick and his family at commencement.Dick always knew he wanted to work in healthcare, and when he discovered that physical therapy focuses on exercise to help people, everything clicked: “I was, and still am, obsessed with the gym and exercise, so this seemed like the perfect match for me,” he said. “Pursuing my tDPT was a combination of wanting to complete the doctorate I had been considering for years and continuing my professional education without needing to travel during the COVID pandemic. Also, my family home in Jamaica has a wall with graduation photos for master’s and doctoral degrees. In my family, I was the only one not on that wall — that was a motivating factor!”

Finding his way from in-person classes to St. Scholastica’s fully online program was a simple matter of asking a friend from Dick’s undergrad days. Several years ago, the timing did not align to complete a program together. Still, when it came up again after his Florida courses were canceled, his friend shared her experience as a tDPT student at St. Scholastica: “On her recommendation, I looked into the program’s courses and I discovered them to be very interesting; there were no ‘fluff courses,’ and since an accredited institution provided it, I was convinced.”

He decided to complete his time at St. Scholastica with a trip to Duluth for several reasons: to visit a new place, to experience the sense of joy and fulfillment by walking across the stage to receive his diploma in person, and to be able to share it all with his family. “It was an amazing experience meeting my professors, and classmates and seeing the beautiful campus in person after seeing pictures online. It was also the first time I saw snow in person, although it was just pushed up to the side of the road; I will never forget that,” Dick shared.

Kim Watkins (DPT ’23)

Kim Watkins had already circumnavigated the globe before she jumped into St. Scholastica’s tDPT program. After finishing her undergraduate degree at home in the U.K., Watkins visited her brother in Hawaii and kicked off a long-term adventure that led to completing a master’s degree while working in New Zealand before spending a year living and volunteering in Italy. While living in Italy, she found an intriguing position at a local practice in Bermuda related to her area of interest (neurological rehabilitation), applied and accepted the job. When she looked for professional development opportunities, Watkins found St. Scholastica’s online, asynchronous program to be an excellent fit.

Kim Watkins and her father in front of Tower Hall at commencement.“I was ready to take my career and my leadership to the next level, so a doctoral program made sense,” Watkins said. “The courses offered through the tDPT program were interesting and what I learned was immediately useful and relevant to my practice. Even spread across multiple time zones, it was still possible to engage with my classmates and it was fascinating to hear about the different healthcare systems we all worked in.”

Before choosing a career path, Watkins considered sports nutrition, but a chance meeting with a physical therapist changed her course: “When I was 17, I was working at a hotel’s front desk in the States and got to talking with a physical therapist. After hearing more about what PT is like in practice — spending time getting to know patients and building rapport, helping support a healthy return to activities that make their lives meaningful and participating in community — convinced me to go that direction. I also saw that, in this field, you can work in different places and see the world in a really interesting way; I am grateful I have been able to experience work and travel from this perspective.”

Watkins was not initially sure about traveling to Duluth for commencement but convinced her parents to make the trek, too, and had no regrets. “It was such a fulfilling trip!” she shared. “I loved meeting some of my classmates and professors in person and I felt beyond welcomed and supported during my time in town. Some of my family watched online while my father and I attended in person. It was so special to be able to share that time with him and experience the Saints community and celebrations together. For any students on the fence about attending, I encourage you to seriously consider it — walking at commencement was more important to me than I thought it would be and I am glad I did.”

Now that she has her doctorate, Watkins is leveling up her leadership, too. She has found a passion in advocating for her patients and has become more involved with the physiotherapy association in Bermuda. “Sometimes you feel like you’re doing a lot where you are, and that’s great, but it’s even better to dive in deeper and see what else you can contribute.”

“I am part of a movement in Bermuda to help improve funding for rehabilitation, provide better care for patients and elevate the physiotherapy profession. I wouldn’t have been motivated to participate in the ways I am before going through St. Scholastica’s tDPT program. The research completed as part of the final project has led to providing education and presenting to various sectors in the community related to the current stroke rehabilitation lived experiences of survivors in Bermuda,” Watkins said. “I am inspired to push things forward, have discussions, and think outside the box. There are ongoing conversations about how to make rehabilitation universally funded in Bermuda because people deserve the right to get the care they need to return to meaningful lives.”

Photo of Jena Ogstan and Duvaughn Dick
Dr. Jena Ogston with Duvaughn Dick (DPT ’23) at a commencement week event.