Department of Physical Therapy chair eager to engage students in service learning opportunities
Dr. Christopher H. Wise was introduced to the world of academia in 1994 when a colleague, who is now his wife, asked him if he was interested in assisting in labs for Alvernia’s Physical Therapist Assistant Program. After working in the lab and teaching several guest lectures, Wise remembers being bit by the teaching bug when he realized his impact on changing lives might be exponentially increased by helping students to develop their knowledge and skill.
In 2000, Wise returned to Alvernia as program director of the PT Assistant Program. He then spent several years teaching at Widener University before returning to Alvernia once again in 2013 as the founding chair of the Department of Physical Therapy.
“As a resident of the Reading community, Alvernia has always had a special place in my heart," Wise noted.
One of the central themes of the DPT Program is a commitment to authentic learning that “connects the classroom to the clinic” while providing important health-related services that meet the needs of the community. A passion to engage students in service learning opportunities throughout the curriculum aligns nicely with the Franciscan tradition that embodies Alvernia, he said. Students are not just practicing on other students but have opportunities to engage in direct patient care early and often.
The Alvernia University Health & Wellness Center at Liggett Avenue, a pro bono facility in which students have provided patient care under the supervision of licensed PTs since 2015, is but one example of the program’s commitment to service. Within the Berks Community Health Center, students and faculty have provided PT care for thousands of individuals, many of whom would not otherwise receive such care. Students also put the university’s core beliefs into practice in countless other ways as they provide services within a “clinic without walls” model. This includes inviting patients into the classroom and collaboration with Tower Health, Reading Housing Authority, Matter of Balance, Walk with Ease and Berks County Office of Aging, among others. Global engagement includes annual service learning trips to Belize.
"Physical therapy is a doing profession, so the best way to support students in their development into competent clinicians is to do it," Wise explained.
The curriculum also includes 36 weeks of full-time clinical experiences and several part-time experiences that begin in the second semester. The program culminates in two back-to-back, post-didactic, 12-week internships just before graduation. This time exceeds that which is required by the program’s accreditation and highlights the program’s commitment to active and engaged learning.
“As a student in the Alvernia DPT program, you are more than a number, your exam grade or your GPA," said Rachel Russell, SPT, a member of the Class of 2023. "The faculty prides themselves in shaping well-rounded student physical therapists by instilling servant leadership, clinical reasoning and clinical competence into the curriculum. Over the last three years, I have formed strong professional relationships with all members of the faculty, especially my advisor, Dr. Wise. Dr. Wise encouraged me throughout the entire program to continually better myself through self-reflection during clinical experiences, allowing me to identify my greatest strengths and weakness. Through this discovery I have gained confidence and have created new experiences I would have otherwise missed out on. As a student in Alvernia’s DPT program you are not a number, you are part of the family.”
Wise is former owner of WISE Physical Therapy, LLC; outpatient private practice WISEFeet, P.C.; a customized orthotic fabrication company; and Therapeutic Articulations, LLC, an educational resource company. He has written two textbooks and has published and presented his scholarly work. He continues to engage in clinical practice and, along with his scholarly pursuits, is interested in developing innovative solutions for individuals afflicted with spine-related conditions. Wise enjoys participating in positive change through teaching, clinical practice and research, and praises God every day for the opportunity to collaborate with his colleagues in impacting the future of this great profession.