Dr. Dolly Swisher appointed director of USF’s physical therapy school

Laura Lee (Dolly) Swisher, PT, PhD, FNAP, FAPTA, has been appointed director of the University of South Florida Health School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences (SPTRS) and associate dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

Dr. Swisher has served as interim director of USF’s physical therapy school since January 2017 when William S. Quillen, DPT, PhD, resigned as director after a long, distinguished and successful career.  She assumes the role as permanent director on Jan. 1, 2018.

“Dr. Swisher is eminently qualified to continue to move the School of Physical Therapy forward as director during this time of dynamic change in health care,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine. “This appointment is recognition of the outstanding academic leadership she has continued to provide and her colleagues’ confidence in her ability to foster a positive learning environment where collaborative education, research and clinical care can thrive.”

Laura Lee (Dolly) Swisher, PT, PhD, FNAP, FAPTA

A founding faculty member of USF SPTRS, Dr. Swisher joined USF in 1998 and attained the rank of professor by 2013.  Before becoming interim director, she served as coordinator of professional education for the school and assistant dean of interprofessional education at the Morsani College of Medicine. Her professional experience includes work in outpatient, hand therapy, subacute and inpatient settings.

Dr. Swisher oversees 23 faculty and seven staff members and 139 students across all three years of USF’s clinical Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, the first such program established in the State University System.  Last year, research funding at SPTRS exceeded $5 million, including interdisciplinary musculoskeletal and prosthetics research for the military and veterans.

During her year as interim director, Dr. Swisher has been instrumental in helping realign the school’s leadership team to better balance teaching and clinical roles, and to improve clinical practice efficiencies.  Recruitment of two new board-certified clinical faculty and the addition of the first physical therapist assistant helped reduce wait times for new patients seen at the USF Physical Therapy Center.  An integral part of USF Health’s growing faculty practice group incorporating professionals across health care disciplines, the Center now serves 420 patients monthly resulting in approximately 1,200 patient visits a month.

Under Dr. Swisher’s leadership the school began implementing innovative curriculum changes, including strengthening the application of basic science education to clinical practice. In 2017, SPTRS attained a 100 percent first-time pass rate on the National Physical Therapy Examination for licensure. The third resident completed the school’s accredited orthopaedic clinical residency program, with a fourth resident starting the residency this month.  Looking ahead, planning is underway for a proposed post-professional hand therapy certification program, which would offer advanced training in treating orthopedic upper-extremity conditions to optimize use of the hand and arm.

An early champion of interprofessional education, Dr. Swisher works with colleagues at the USF Health colleges of medicine, nursing, public health and pharmacy and USF Health leadership to promote a learning environment that will effectively prepare students for 21st century team-based, coordinated health care. Doctoral-level physical therapy students share first-year anatomy, physiology and other basic science courses with medical students. At the BRIDGE Clinic, the DPT students join students from various health disciplines to volunteer together, learning from one another while providing free care to underserved patients.

“In 2018, we celebrate our 20th anniversary. It’s been gratifying to see how much the school has grown in a relatively short time,” Dr. Swisher said. “I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished and look forward to working with faculty, staff and students to build an even stronger program in the future… At the end of the day, achieving excellence in education requires the integration of excellent scholarly activity, research and clinical practice.”

Dr. Swisher is a 1986 physical therapy graduate of the University of Tennessee, Memphis. She received a M.Div. degree from Andover Newton Theological School and a doctoral degree in public administration from Tennessee State University. Dr. Swisher is the author of journal publications, books, and book chapters about ethics, professionalism, ethics education, and interprofessional education.

She currently chairs the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, and formerly served as chair of the Ethics and Judicial Committee of the American Physical Therapy Association and as co-chair of the Task Force to Revise the Core Ethics Documents.

She is a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Humanities in Rehabilitation and the Journal of Physical Therapy Education.

Dr. Swisher has won a variety of teaching awards, as well as multiple national awards for her work, most recently being named a Catherine Worthingham Fellow by the American Physical Therapy Association.