Since July 2021, Dr. Michele Courtney has been serving as the interim director of Ohio University’s Physical Therapy program.
Courtney may be new to her interim role; however, she is not new to Athens or Ohio University. A member of OHIO’s Class of 1994 and a professor since 2006, Courtney has plenty of experience at OHIO.
Following graduation in 1994, Courtney found herself in a management role. After managing several rehabilitation centers and health facilities, she decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree.
It was while working on her MBA that Courtney realized her true passion – education.
“A position opened at Ohio University at the end of 2006 … I started as a lab instructor and decided to work on my Ph.D.,” Courtney said.
She completed her Ph.D. in 2016 and began working as a full-time clinical faculty member, an instructor who both teaches and treats patients. When the former director of the physical therapy program retired, Courtney stepped into the role.
While the current role is only interim, it could last some time as higher education, and physical therapy, are facing challenges when it comes to finding qualified candidates.
“A lot of program directors have retired and left the field,” she said. “In general, physical therapy faculty are in higher demand, and we don’t always have enough faculty to fill roles like program director.”
However, Courtney is not letting these challenges stop her from helping the program maintain smooth sailing and see its visions come to fruition.
“My role is about helping the team members do what they need to do daily,” she said. “That’s primarily teaching students, but many of us are involved in research and clinical treatments. It’s about supporting each faculty member to meet their own goals whether it be clinical work, research or instruction.”
Another area in which Courtney is acting as a steward for the program’s vision is by preparing students for the workforce in ways many other physical therapy programs do not.
“A few years ago, we purposefully made it so our students spend their final term on campus taking advanced coursework beyond the typical classroom work,” Courtney said. “Our graduates leave the program with skills new graduates do not typically have.”
Students in the program learn skills like dry needling, something Courtney says new clinicians typically learn on the job, not in the classroom. Skills like these make OHIO graduates especially marketable to prospective employers.
Courtney’s goal during her time as interim director is to continue fostering advanced electives and sending out highly desirable candidates.
“We want to be a program that’s benchmarked. We want to be a program that other universities use as a benchmark for excellence,” she said.