Season 5 - Episode 509
Baylor’s Department of Physical Therapy blazed trails as the first doctoral program to blend a two-year degree program with hybrid delivery. Baylor DPT students and faculty reach across the country, learning virtually while regularly visiting Waco for intensive in-person immersion sessions on the Baylor campus. In this Baylor Connections, Kendra Gagnon, clinical professor and chair, takes listeners inside the fast-growing program and shares how it meets needs in communities across the nation.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and today we are talking with Dr. Kendra Gagnon.
Derek Smith:Dr. Gagnon serves as Clinical Professor and Chair of Baylor's Department of Physical Therapy within the Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences. A longtime physical therapist and educator, Dr. Gagnon has provided leadership in numerous statewide and national roles, and is a graduate of the APTA Fellowship in Education Leadership based in the Kansas City area.
Derek Smith:She joined the Baylor faculty in 2017 and has risen to chair of the department. Baylor offers a hybrid Doctor of Physical Therapy program, we'll be calling that DPT for short, that allows two year completion of degree requirements in a blended learning format, combining distance education, on campus lab immersion sessions, clinical education experiences, and more. Perhaps, I don't know, maybe we'd call Dr. Gagnon a little bit of a hidden gym at Baylor for those of us on campus. And we're excited to have you on the program to talk about it today. Thanks so much for joining us.
Kendra Gagnon:Well, thank you for having me.
Derek Smith:Well, it's great to visit with you. And to get started, could you give us a little bit of a DPT 101, if you will, tell us a little about the program and who it's for.
Kendra Gagnon:Okay. Well, you've already mentioned that our program is a two year hybrid program. So, what we mean by hybrid is our students, our DPT students take their classes online. They do five to six-week blocks of online learning, and then they come to campus in Waco. We actually have facilities downtown in Waco, where our students come for their onsite immersion labs. So, over the course of the two year program, it's six trimesters in total, our students have eight lab experiences, 31 weeks of clinical education and multiple five to six-week blocks of online learning that happens. And all of that happens in two years.
Kendra Gagnon:So, the traditional kind of PT program is two and a half to three years in length. So, ours is a little bit faster. There are other two year programs. There are other hybrid programs. But we are unique in that we blend the two year and the hybrid delivery. And of course, because it's a hybrid program, it is a national program. So, we are able to recruit students from anywhere, they can live anywhere, as long as they can travel to Waco for those onsite lab immersions.
Derek Smith:It's funny, we've been talking a lot about hybrid learning and hybrid offerings. You guys were a little, I guess, ahead of the curve in that pre COVID.
Kendra Gagnon:We were. We launched our program in 2018. Our first cohort started in January of 2018. So, we built our program in this hybrid format on purpose pre COVID. So, really what that's done for us is given us kind of a competitive advantage in a post-COVID world, as we were sort of at least maybe a step or two ahead of some other folks when the pandemic hit. We were already doing hybrid. We were already doing class on Zoom. We were already learning remotely and working remotely.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Kendra Gagnon. And yeah, you already told us this a little bit, but I want to ask you more specifically too, when you talk about the blended options. But if I were a prospective student weighing options and plenty good options out there, I'm sure, what would you say is distinct about Baylor? What are some of the unique selling points to be part of Baylor DPT?
Kendra Gagnon:Well, of course, we kind of automatically go to what makes us, I think, unique and novel, which is the hybrid format. But I actually don't think that's what makes us special at all. But what makes us special is the people, the human aspect of our program. We have the best faculty and staff, our faculty and staff are our greatest resource. And we are just absolutely proud to have the very best.
Kendra Gagnon:And again, because we're a national program, we're able to recruit faculty from all over the country. So, while there is a faculty shortage in physical therapist education, we really enjoy a really robust pool of faculty that are leaders in the profession, that are leaders clinically, that have a seat at the table in national service organizations. So, we have just the best faculty and staff.
Kendra Gagnon:Of course, Baylor University is just a really, really special place. The faith mission of Baylor, I think, is huge. The R1 status, the new R1 status as a doctoral program with a lot of focus on science and research and inquiry. We're really excited to be part of what's now a R1 university. And then, when you blend that with major athletics, I mean, Baylor is just a really exciting place to be.
Kendra Gagnon:And then, of course, at the DPT program level, we are a relatively young program. We started in 2018. We have become a department. So, now we are a Department of Physical Therapy. So, we're sort of growing up a little bit as well, and part of the Robbins College, which is also a young college at Baylor. So, we really are, I mean, it's just exciting time, and we're really in a place where we're just growing and growing in a growing college at a university where exciting things are happening all with that foundation of faith, which I think is really exciting.
Derek Smith:That's great. That's great. And you mentioned you're growing, that means more opportunities for students and more students. Could you tell us a little bit more, who are your students? Brag on them a little bit, if you would, and tell us what's special about them.
Kendra Gagnon:Our students are awe some. So, obviously, I said our faculty and staff are our best resource, but our students are truly the secret sauce of our program. Again, we have a national pool of students from all over the country. They can live anywhere. So, we have a real diverse pool of students. They live in any given cohort. We are a cohort model. So, we have a cohort of students that begin once every year, there's 100 students in a cohort. So, we're a large program. There's no one bigger than us, bigger than a planned class size of 100 that I know of at this point.
Kendra Gagnon:And our students come from all over the country. So, in any given cohort, maybe a third to 40, maybe as many as 50% are from Texas, but as you know, Texas is a big place. So, that's sort of regional, they're from all over Texas. And then, the remaining half to two-thirds of our students are from all other states across the country. Usually, 20 to 30 states represented in a given cohort.
Kendra Gagnon:So, we have students from all over the country. And I think, again, they're drawn to our program because it's accessible. They don't have to necessarily move to a city with an academic medical center or with a DPT program. They can come to our program, they can live and learn wherever they are. They can stay rooted in their communities with their families, with their friends, and then they can travel to Waco, which is a wonderful place to travel, and Baylor campus is a wonderful place to come, to learn alongside their faculty and staff during lab immersions.
Derek Smith:Dr. Gagnon, you mentioned in their communities, what does it mean to you and to your colleagues to be you able to help these doctors, these physical therapists, who want to elevate their game serving their communities? What does that mean to you and to do it the way you do?
Kendra Gagnon:Like many professions in healthcare in general, there are real health disparities. There are communities that don't have access to healthcare providers or to adequate healthcare. A lot of those communities are racial and ethnic minorities. They may be underserved rural populations. All sorts of different communities.
Kendra Gagnon:So, what I think that a program like ours does is allows us to recruit and find students from those communities, who will then stay embedded in those communities, that know best the needs and the resources of those communities, and can learn at Baylor, become part of the Baylor story, the Baylor values, the Baylor mission, and take that back to their communities and continue to serve.
Kendra Gagnon:So, what we hope, and we're still too young to have a lot of data to support this yet. So, we're feeling like this is what's happening, but we're looking at the data and we're hoping, in a few more years, we'll have more data to support this. But what we hope is that by recruiting students from these diverse populations, from underserved areas, and providing them with the education and allowing them to stay in those communities, that they'll become healthcare providers in those communities. And we can really help start to chip away at some of the underserved populations and health disparities, at least in the way that we can with our one program.
Derek Smith:That's fantastic. As we visit with Dr. Kendra Gagnon, Clinical Professor and Chair of Baylor's Department of Physical Therapy. You mentioned that this is a new program, you came to Baylor, what, about five years ago?
Kendra Gagnon:Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Derek Smith:So, tell us a little bit about that journey. What led you to Baylor?
Kendra Gagnon:Well, I have been in PT education since 2005, 2006. I started as a graduate teaching assistant and an adjunct faculty and became a full faculty at a program in 2008. And then, have been at two other DPT programs before I came to Baylor. And I think that what really initially drew me to the DPT program at Baylor was the innovation. It was really exciting to think about being part of a hybrid PT program. At that time, there was only one other hybrid program in the country. So, we were going to be the second hybrid program in the country.
Kendra Gagnon:And I've always had an interest in innovation and instructional technology. So, that definitely grabbed me right away, the opportunity to be part of building something like that. Then, I think I learned about Baylor, the institution, and that just sealed the deal. Again, the faith mission, the faith background of Baylor, and the fact that the values of Baylor, the Christian values, are truly part of the experience at Baylor.
Kendra Gagnon:And I can say that I felt that from my first interview, being on campus is just the kind of compassion and empathy and caring of the community that I think you just feel, and that we're able then to give to our students as well. And yeah, so, I think it just seemed like a perfect fit for me.
Derek Smith:Was higher education always the route you wanted to go to use your physical therapy talents?
Kendra Gagnon:Oh gosh, no. I remember when I was a PT student, we had these small group discussions and one of my faculty members pulled me aside at one point and said, "You're kind of a natural teacher. Have you ever thought about being a teacher, being a professor?" I mean, "I absolutely know I'm going to finish this program, I'm done with school, I want to be a clinician." And then, I went out to practice and my practice background is in pediatrics. And when I was practicing early in my career, my practice has always been in community-based settings. So, school districts, early intervention home-based care for infants and toddlers and young children. And I started to realize, in those first few years in practice, that my favorite part about clinical practice was the teaching part, teaching families how to support their infant, teaching teachers how they could integrate motor strategies into the classroom to make students successful.
Kendra Gagnon:And then, I had my first student as a clinical instructor. And I just loved interacting with that student. So, I went, "Okay, I think I'm going to have to eat my words. I said I would never do this, but I think I'm really interested in teaching." So, at that point, I applied for a faculty position that I was completely unqualified for, and I didn't get that job, but the department chair brought me in and said, "Hey, I think you have some real potential to become a faculty. Come be part of our PhD program, get integrated, cut your teeth on some adjunct faculty teaching and let's see what develops." And that was a real turning point for me in my career. I started working on my PhD. I started getting into the classroom a little bit and within a few years after that, I was in my first full-time faculty job.
Derek Smith:That's great. So, on that path of it that led you here to Baylor, interesting to hear how that developed as we visit with Dr. Kendra Gagnon. I'm curious, you're in the Kansas City area, a part of Baylor and other faculty are in other places, it's not everyone congregated in one place. Although, you all do, as you mentioned, come to Waco and will talk about that more for intensive sessions. But what's that like? I know it's a broad question, what's it like being a part of the Baylor family in the Kansas city area? What's unique about that to you?
Kendra Gagnon:Well, I mean, Baylor has a national reputation, so it's really easy. I mean, as soon as I tell people I work for Baylor, I mean, everybody knows Baylor has a wonderful reputation. So, it's really fun and something I'm really proud of. Before COVID, in particular, people would sort of tilt their head and look at me a little bit funny though when I said I've worked for Baylor, "Well, wait a minute, isn't Baylor in Texas? And you live here."
Kendra Gagnon:And that's the experience for all of our faculty. So, we have 15 core faculty in our department and they live across, I believe, last count was 11 different states. And from coast to coast, we have people from Washington, Florida, New York, I'm right in the middle, in Missouri, and everywhere in between.
Kendra Gagnon:So, it's actually really exciting and really, really fun. I think, early on, it was definitely... We had to learn to integrate with the university, which wasn't used to having hybrid programs and a lot of remote meetings. But I do think one of the blessings in disguise of COVID was it sort of normalized working this way in these sorts of meetings. So, in many ways, I think we felt like that was a real turning point for us feeling kind of fully included in the university culture, because all of the meetings were happening in Zoom.
Kendra Gagnon:But it has been, between the travel, the technology that we have and the support of the university and the wonderful team we have and the strong communication channels we have, it's really been a wonderful experience and a wonderful way for Baylor to be embedded in all these communities all across the country where our faculty and students are.
Derek Smith:So, you got the virtual aspect, then we've got the in-person aspect. I'm assuming, when you get everyone on campus, I mean, you've got busy professionals. You're trying to make the most of that time during those on campus lab immersion sessions. So, take us inside those, if you would, what would we see and what are those like if we were to eavesdrop on a class?
Kendra Gagnon:Yeah. So, my favorite analogy about our lab immersions is it's like summer camp and it really is. So, we come down, like I said, twice a semester for any given group of students, they're going to have eight lab immersion experiences over their two years in the program. And our students and faculty and staff, we all come into town at the same time. And we are on site in at the lab immersion sessions from 8:00 AM till 5:30 PM with a break for lunch every day, all day. We typically do take Sunday mornings off so our students can regroup and refresh and worship and do the things that they'd like to do during that time. But other than that, we are all day, every day, no days off, it is truly an immersion.
Kendra Gagnon:But also, we are learning together. Our students are out in Airbnbs together. We're going grocery shopping together, and running into each other at the grocery store in the community, doing our laundry together at laundry facilities, all of those kinds of things. Eating lunch together, having our meals together. So, it really does feel a lot like summer camp. And different student groups and faculty groups are all there immersed together, engaging, working, learning together.
Kendra Gagnon:Then, we're there for one to two weeks at a time, depending on the lab. And it always seems like just the right amount of time before we're just super fried or totally sick of each other, it's time to be done and we all go back to our communities and go back into the online learning portion of the program. Then, six weeks later, we come back and do the same thing. And it's like summer camp where we all just pick right up where we left off, build those really deep connections and deep relationships and support each other.
Kendra Gagnon:And the beautiful thing about our onsite lab immersions is that, you know, we build such strong relationships there, because we are immersed there together that it creates structures and supports for our students and faculty when we're remote. So, nobody feels isolated. People have, the students have their academic team, that's kind of their first family. They have their faculty coach. All of those things. So, I think the lab immersions produce some really great learning, but also create those connections and that really strong network so that when we are learning online, we have those connections.
Kendra Gagnon:And the lab immersions are also a wonderful way that we engage clinicians from within the community in Texas, but also across the country. So, we have some partnerships with Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest right there in Waco. So, we have a lot of their clinicians that come in all over the rest of the state. And again, when we need those experts from across the country, we can bring them in.
Kendra Gagnon:So, we have 100 students in lab. We have probably 10 faculty who are experts in that area. So, if those students are taking this course on musculoskeletal spine, we have 10 musculoskeletal spine experts in the room. If they're taking a course on pediatrics, we have 10 pediatric specialists in the room, teaching students in small groups, demonstrating, providing feedback, providing mentorship and support.
Kendra Gagnon:So, it's a really cool way for the classroom to really become like the clinic as well and for our students to see professionalism modeled within the lab and also see a lot of different types of physical therapists, so they can decide what kind of physical therapist they want to be.
Derek Smith:That's great. Visiting with Dr. Kendra Gagnon, Clinical Professor and Chair of Baylor's Department of Physical Therapy. As we are in the final few minutes of the program, I want to ask you about research. I know you mentioned Baylor now an R1 research institution. What role does research play for you or for your colleagues in DPT?
Kendra Gagnon:Yeah. So, I mean, I think research is just a fundamental way as a faculty member that we can all contribute to knowledge and advance the profession. We are educating doctoral students, and it's important for us to engage in that scholarly work in addition to the teaching and service work that we do as well. I think, personal to me, similar to my clinical practice background, which has been really community-based in authentic environments, I think I've really been drawn to research endeavors with a real practical application. So, I think about kind of the adage, "Write the book you need to read." And I think that's the approach I've taken to my research. I sort of research the thing that I need to read, or I want to learn about.
Kendra Gagnon:So back 10 years ago, when I was starting to explore integrating social media into my teaching, I couldn't find anything about it. So, I did a study. I'm using Twitter in the classroom. I've done research and experiential learning in pediatrics and actually have a paper coming out, a publication about our hybrid program. So, it's in press right now.
Kendra Gagnon:And I think, similarly, our other faculty across the country are doing really exciting research. We have people doing research in imaging, in dry needling, in pain science, in education and study strategies for students in hybrid environments, and in health disparities and social determinants of health. And folks are able to do that in their communities across the country. We all leverage our own community collaborations and relationships and networks. But I think we also use the classroom as research lab in a lot of the research that we're doing now because our program is so new and so innovative and so exciting, is about our hybrid program and what it takes to teach, live and work in a hybrid model like we do.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, as we wind down, a final question for you, you've talked about the fact the program, you've been here about five years, it's grown rapidly. Where do you and your colleagues see the program growing ahead? What opportunities for growth are out there?
Kendra Gagnon:It is such an exciting time for us. And I feel like we're growing right alongside with the Robbins College and also with Baylor. We were really excited to make their transition from a DPT program to a Physical Therapy Department, which has opened up so many opportunities for us to grow and diversify what we do and the work we do and what we offer. Of course, we are dedicated to continuing to improve and innovate in the DPT program around teaching, and learning technologies, and clinical education, and our curriculum and structure and delivery. And we will still continue to attract and support the absolute best faculty and students in doing all of that.
Kendra Gagnon:But I think becoming a department really has allowed us to think about diversifying our other degree offerings to really meet the needs of the PT profession in a landscape of education and healthcare that's really rapidly changing. So, some things we're really excited about, is we are launching a orthopedic physical therapy residency in partnership with Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest, and our first residents begin this month.
Kendra Gagnon:So, we're really excited to get that started. And we're hoping that this will pave the way for other residencies in the future, because we know that a big area of need and practice is really helping physical therapists become trained in specialty areas and to provide specialty care.
Kendra Gagnon:We're also looking at other opportunities for post-professional terminal degrees, such as a DSc PhD, also potentially certificate programs. So, again, a lot of those things are in exploration right now, but we're really trying to pay attention to what's happening in physical therapist education, but also healthcare in general, so that we can be really strategic about growing and diversifying, to meet the needs, not only of the Waco area in Texas, but really the needs of the profession on a national and global scale.
Derek Smith:Well, that's great. We'll be excited to see that in the future, excited for what you're doing now. Really appreciate you taking the time to share with us today. Thanks so much for coming on the program.
Kendra Gagnon:Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.
Derek Smith:Great to visit Dr. Kendra Gagnon, Clinical Professor and Chair of Baylor's Department of Physical Therapy, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith, reminder, you can hear this and the programs online at baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.