DPT Course Descriptions

Below are course descriptions for Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.


    Clinical Student Team Experience in Practice (STEPs®) is a series of four courses that are embedded in the six didactic semesters of the DPT curriculum. Students will work in teams with a physical therapist clinical instructor to apply skills, demonstrate clinical problem-solving, and assume professional roles in various clinical patient care settings. Each semester students will be expected to demonstrate skills and knowledge gained from the current and previous coursework.

    Normal Human Body provides the anatomic and basic science foundations necessary for physical therapists' understanding the human body. The course emphasis is on gross anatomy and the relationships between the musculoskeletal, neurological, and vascular systems of the human body, including a critical examination of the morphology and function of the axial skeleton, upper and lower limbs, and cardiac, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, urogenital and reproductive systems. This course also covers the microanatomy of the major organs and the functions of their constituent cells, the embryological origins of organ systems, the biomechanics of various organ tissues, and the response of muscle, bone, joints, and soft tissue to disease and injury pertinent to the practice of physical therapy. Structure and Function of the Human Body provides a framework for understanding the form and function of the neuronal systems in the brain and spinal cord that motivate bodily actions and behaviors. Through this course, learners will understand the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology that impact the care of patients/clients in the profession of physical therapy.

    This course is an introduction to the elements and principles fundamental to the study of human movement. Included are: a foundation of kinesiology and biomechanics, biomechanics of biological tissues, joint structure and function, normal and pathological joint movement, normal human development, and observational gait analysis of normal and pathological gait patterns. Concepts of kinetics, kinematics, length-tension relationships, joint classification, and functional movement will be discussed. While these concepts seem very specific in nature, they will always be focused on the application to the patient population. The basic understanding of human movement provides a foundation for developing assessment and intervention strategies to improve and restore mobility and function.

    This course provides contact with patients and patient care techniques. It exposes students to the initial STEPs® in the patient/client professional relationship. Emphasis is placed on the following skills: patient history, vital signs, palpation, range of motion, goniometry, and muscle performance testing. The emphasis throughout the course is to develop the skills necessary to assure patient/client and student safety in the clinical environment.

    Introduction to the healthcare system will provide the student with an understanding of the components of the health system that the physical therapist must integrate and facilitate. Included in this course will be a focus on interpreting health systems research including the translation of findings into practice. Students in this course will be introduced to all aspects of the health care system and will be provided the foundations to serve as leaders in a collaborative healthcare system model.

    This course will introduce the practice management model for patients with pathology or impairments to their integumentary system. The histology of the skin and pathologies of the integument will be the foundation from which the assessment and management of pathological processes and wounds of various etiologies will be discussed. The continuum of impairment through functional limitation and disability will be presented as a result of primary and secondary pathologies of the integument. The students will look at secondary management of the integumentary system in many physical therapy settings and across the lifespan.

    Exercise prescription is an integral part of the rehabilitation process and Physical Therapists are qualified to appropriately prescribe and dose exercise interventions for a variety of populations, including individuals with injuries, impairments, co-morbidities, and additional risk factors. Exercise prescription involves careful screening including history and physical examination to determine a patient’s capacity for physical activity as well as their risk factors and goals. This course introduces the science and theory of exercise prescription in the continuum of care. An overall goal of the course is to provide the foundational basis for understanding the body’s physiological responses to physical activity as well as understand the acute responses and chronic physiologic adaptations to physical activity, including some of the static and dynamic factors (“moderating variables”) that influence such responses and adaptations. Students will be introduced to cardiorespiratory, strength, and mobility testing, exercise prescription, and special population considerations. Clinical correlations and case-study applications will be used throughout the course. Credit: 2

    Physical therapists commonly encounter clients with cardiovascular and/or pulmonary systems dysfunction, either as a primary problem or co-morbidity. This course gives an overview of cardiovascular and pulmonary-related pathologies, examination procedures, diagnostic procedures, goal setting, and interventional strategies. Successful completion of the course requires the ability to synthesize and integrate information from this course with prerequisite and other related courses in a variety of cardiovascular and pulmonary case-based problem-solving experiences. The didactic portion of the course provides the background to make evidence-based clinical decisions in examination, evaluation, and treatment of patients with a wide variety of cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions. The practicum portion focuses on the integration of these decision-making capabilities with the necessary psychomotor skills required for the examination and treatment of patients with cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions.

    Persistent pain is more prevalent than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined; and is responsible for over $600 billion in healthcare and lost productivity costs. Importantly, persistent pain is not a symptom, but a health disorder. For optimal pain management, clinicians must understand and identify a multitude of biological, psychological, cognitive, and social factors. The course will educate students on acute and persistent pain mechanisms and influences. In addition, students will be introduced to evidence-based approaches for optimal pain management.

    The number of Americans 65 years and older is projected to double within the next forty years; which will result in more older adults seeking medical care. The goal of this course is to provide students with the foundational knowledge and skills for optimal physical therapy management of older adults. Students will learn the importance of physical function on elderly independence and quality of life, as well as individual and environmental risk factors for physical function loss. Students will also learn key concepts related to aging versus senescence, age-related disorders, multimorbidity, and physical resilience. These concepts will interface with clinical management coursework for the purposes of learning age-appropriate assessment, interventions, and outcome measures. Finally, students will acquire skills necessary to facilitate continuance of physical function, independence, and quality of life among older adults beyond physical therapy management.

    In this course students will be introduced to the science of clinical reasoning in health care and physical therapy, and, the integration of clinical reasoning and evidence-based practice will be developed. Students will learn how to access knowledge for practice and will learn the methods of scientific inquiry, including research theory, design, methods, and measurement. Students will focus on learning how to determine the statistical conclusion validity of research evidence for practice, learn the logic of hypothesis testing and learn specific statistical tests used for descriptive and inferential analysis of experimental research data. Epidemiological statistics that enhance the understanding of diagnostic tests and treatment options will also be covered, as well as the analytical components of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Students will read research literature weekly and participate in a critical appraisal of the selected research methods and the meaningfulness of the findings for clinical decisions.

    This course covers foundational content related to mobility assistive technologies including orthoses, prostheses, and wheelchairs. Additionally, patient management for individuals with amputations will be covered.

    This course introduces the student to musculoskeletal examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention for impairments, functional limitations, and disability in clients with pathologies of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine; upper extremities, pelvis, and lower extremities.

    This course includes the basic etiology, epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical presentation of common neurological conditions and injuries, assessment procedures to define impairments and limitations in activity and participation, and development of the plan of care for persons with neurological dysfunction across the lifespan. The course will cover the management of central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction, peripheral nervous system dysfunction, vestibular pathologies, and motor unit diseases. Examination, evaluation, diagnosis, pharmacological management, clinical decision-making, prognosis, standardized assessments, outcome measures and interventions will be emphasized.

    This course provides the anatomic and basic science foundation necessary for physical therapists' understanding of the human brain. This course will provide a comprehensive survey of the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of the central and peripheral nervous systems, which will provide a framework for understanding the form and function of the neuronal systems in the brain and spinal cord that motivate bodily actions and behaviors. Learners will command comprehensive knowledge concerning the form and function of the nervous system, and the means by which the nervous system governs human behavior. Through this course, learners will gain the foundational knowledge to understand how neuroanatomy and neurophysiology impact the care of patients/clients in the profession of physical therapy. 

    This curriculum will equip Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy Students with a deeper understanding of implicit and explicit bias, race, racism, sex, ability status, gender identity and socioeconomic difference. Course facilitators and guest lecturers will guide students in provocative conversations around health disparities, structural competency, bias, and the impact of implicit associations on interactions with peers and patients.  Through skills building exercises and experiential opportunities outside traditional classroom settings, students will be challenged to explore individual, cultural, and social determinants of health and wellness. In addition, students will gain knowledge about the evidence and economics of health disparities, the Durham community, and the history of Duke Medicine’s role in that community. Through the evaluation of peer-reviewed literature regarding health disparities, students will gather knowledge and skills to mitigate provider influences on disparities and ultimately improve the quality of healthcare. 

    This course will introduce the practice management model for pediatric patients. The theoretical basis of pediatric development, normal and pathological development will be the foundation from which the assessment and management of various etiologies will be discussed. The continuum of impairment through functional limitation and disability will be presented as a result of primary and secondary pathologies. The students will look at secondary management of the pediatric patient in many physical therapy settings and across the lifespan.

    Complex patient management will introduce the student to the assessment and management of complex patient cases across the lifespan and the continuum of care. An emphasis will be placed on clinical decision making related to the physical therapy management of individuals with multiple system involvement. Furthermore, collaborative navigation of the complex patient through the healthcare system will be underscored.

    Comprehensive Assessment and Management of Practice (CAMP) I is the first of two courses that will provide opportunities for students to deliver physical therapy services through a supervised team approach for the evaluation and treatment of conditions across all specialty practice areas. These courses will build upon earlier foundational and clinical experiences to further develop clinical reasoning. During CAMP, students will be mentored by DPT program faculty as they work in small groups to provide care to community members who have a variety of diagnoses causing movement dysfunction or pain. The students in this course will be involved in developing and documenting a plan of care based on the ICF model that includes goals, skilled intervention, and progression

    PT Professional Practice threads throughout the entire DPT curriculum. In this series of courses, learners will develop the professional behaviors, knowledge, and values crucial to be leaders in a dynamic health care environment. Through an understanding of the profession's history and governance, students will have experiences in professional and patient advocacy initiatives. Students will master the crucial skills of patient and professional communication in order to operate effectively in practice. Students will also be grounded in ethical frameworks that can be easily applied to practical situations encountered in clinical practice. This course series also seeks to develop leadership skills necessary to be change agents in healthcare practice, management, education, research, and advocacy.

    To deepen their knowledge base in various practice content areas, students choose 12 APC's from the following topic tracks:

    • PT 738 Complex Patient Management 
    • PT 739 Geriatrics 
    • PT 740 Leadership/Health Equity
    • PT 742 Neurorehabilitation 
    • PT 743 Orthopedic Sports 
    • PT 744 Pain Science
    • PT 745 Pediatrics 
    • PT 747 Research 
    • PT 748 Teaching 
    • PT 749 Vestibular Rehabilitation 
    • PT 746 Pelvic Health