A Look Back at 90 Years: NYU’s Physical Therapy Program History 1927 – 2017

NYU Steinhardt’s Physical Therapy Program is celebrating it’s 90th year as one of the first baccalaureate entry-level physical therapy programs in the United States. Since its start back in 1927, student clinical experience has grown rapidly and the physical therapy curriculum content has expanded greatly in scope and relevance. The following are some highlights of the past 90 years.


  • Physical Therapy Program leading to a BS degree becomes operational as a unit of the Department of Physical Education, Health, and Recreation at New York  University.
  • Physical therapy specialization occurred during the senior year and was conducted in collaboration with the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled (now known as the Hospital for Special Surgery).


  • The School of Education assumes full jurisdiction for both the liberal arts and professional aspects of the program.
  • Classes are held at Lenox Hill Hospital and at the Hospital for Joint Diseases.


  • Regular course of study was 9 months  in duration
  • A close clinical teaching affiliation develops between the Institute for the Crippled and Disabled and the Physical Therapy Program.


  • A landmark year in the Department’s history, 1943 saw the implementation of a post-professional master’s degree program, a program that is still in existence today.


  • Students were assigned to Bellevue Hospital and the Hospital for Joint Diseases for the first 300 clinical practice hours and to Lenox Hill Hospital for the last 100 hours.


  • Duration of program increased to 9 1/2 months
  • Elizabeth C. Addoms appointed as Physical Therapy Program Director.


  • Curriculum expanded to a full year with students receiving either a BS or an MA in conjunction with their physical therapy certificate upon completion of their respective programs.


  • St. Vincent’s Hospital added as another teaching center for selected theory courses.
  • New York University Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR, now the Howard A. Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine) was established with Dr. Howard A. Rusk as its Director and Dr. George Deaver as its Director of the Children’s Division.


  • Physical Therapy Program became a unit of the newly established Division  of  Rehabilitation Education of the School of Education.


  • PhD degree program officially approved.
  • Professor Elizabeth C. Addoms retires from NYU, succeeded by Dr. Arthur J. Nelson as Physical Therapy Program Director.


  • School of Education’s name changed to the School of Education, Health, Nursing, and Arts Professions (SEHNAP), and the Physical Therapy Program became a part of the School’s Division  of Health.
  • Elizabeth C. Addoms Award for Excellence is established by the Physical Therapy Department to recognize graduating physical therapy students who demonstrate superior achievement in the academic components of the curriculum and who display the potential for becoming an outstanding clinician.
  • Master’s degree program in cardiopulmonary physical therapy approved by the New York State Education Department.


  • Robert S. Salant Physical Therapy Scholarship Fund is established to provide supplemental funds to senior-year students.


  • Physical Therapy Department implemented a master’s degree program in developmental disabilities.
  • Faculty commence the development and implementation of a professional doctoral program leading to a doctoral degree (DPT). After 12 years of legislative bureaucracy, the new program, based upon a four plus three model, begins.
  • In 1984, Dr. Arthur Nelson steps down as Director of the Department and is succeeded by Professor Eileen Nathanson.
  • Professor Eileen Nathanson steps down as Chair and Professor Andrew L. McDonough assumes the position of Acting Chair from February 1989 until August 1989, when he was officially appointed Chair of the Physical Therapy Program.


  • Dr. Wen Ling succeeded Dr. Andrew McDonough as Chair.


  • The first professional doctoral students were admitted to the Physical Therapy DPS Program in July 1998 directed by Dr. Marilyn Moffat.


  • The State grants administrative approval to change the degree to the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). The  DPT  curriculum  spans 39 months, consists of 133 credits, and incorporates the equivalent of almost a full academic year of clinical practice.


  • Transitional DPT Program for Practicing Physical Therapists approved.


  • The first cohort of students graduate from the NYU Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT).


  • Dr. Mitchell Batavia succeeds Dr. Wen Ling as Chair.


  • The Physical Therapy Department embarks on its first global experience for students with clinical observations in Trinidad and Israel.

Moving Forward

NYU’s Physical Therapy Program has graduated over 3500 thera- pists, currently practicing through- out the world in all types of professional settings including pri- vate, voluntary, and governmental agencies.

Nearly 350 hospitals, rehabilitation centers, community health agencies, and private practices within commuting distance of the New York metropolitan area participate in the NYU program of professional physical therapy edu- cation. The program also utilizes over 180 facilities nationwide.

The Department is especially indebted to the research and teaching talents of its distinguished faculty consisting of outstanding physicians and physical therapists such as Elizabeth C. Addoms, Signe Brunnstrom, Mary Eleanor Brown, Jack Hofkosh, Edith Lawton Atkins, Marilyn Moffat, and ArthurJ.  Nelson who have contributed to the overall strength and consistent improvements of the program, and to the cooperation of a multiplicity of health care facilities and alumni.

Now, heading into almost a century of educationally preparing physical therapists for practice, New York University continues to maintain its outstanding reputation and will continue to meet the needs of an ever-expanding profession.








Posted: December 13th, 2016