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When the Western University of Health Sciences opened its Lebanon campus, there was a need to create training opportunities for students at Samaritan hospitals in the mid-valley.

Bob Long, the manager of the physical therapy department at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, was involved in setting up those programs.

What he didn’t know was that this was the start of a process which would see him complete his own educational journey.

When Long, 61, started out in the field a doctorate was not a requirement to enter the field. He held a master’s degree from Oregon State University in exercise science and sports medicine, and a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri.

“A bachelor’s degree is what it amounted to then,” said Long. “In physical therapy, for most of us who have our degree, there’s no requirement that we go back and get a doctorate. We are already physical therapists. We can be grandfathered in.”

Long started his career in private practice, joined the Samaritan team for a few years and then returned to private practice. He rejoined Samaritan in 2005, working at the hospital in Lincoln City. He took his current position at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital in 2015, where he manages a staff of 17 therapists based at the hospital and at clinics in Lebanon and Sweet Home.

Over time, standards for physical therapists began to change. In the 1990s, Creighton University was the first to build its physical therapist training as a doctoral program. Other universities followed that example and a doctorate became standard, although it was not yet required.

“By 2020, all physical therapy programs must be based around a doctorate,” Long said. “Being a manager, it was kind of strange when you have a bachelors in physical therapy and everyone you are overseeing has a doctorate.”

As Long worked with his counterparts at Western University of Health Sciences, he began to consider the idea of going back and finishing his doctorate. He took a single test class and decided to make the leap.

He took his classes through the Western University of Health Sciences campus in Pomona, Calif. The program was designed to take two years, but he finished it one year, wrapping up his responsibilities this fall.

“I had to fly down to Pomona, flew down there 13 times. Got a lot of air miles in,” Long said.

What he appreciated most about the program is that the courses were all of immediate use to him as a physical therapist. Other programs were focused more on administration, but his desire was to become a better clinician. He took classes in pharmacology, radiology and differential diagnosis.

“The biggest thing I was noticing today when I was trouble-shooting some problems with a patient, the stuff I’m utilizing now I gained from that program. That’s what I like, the extra clinical knowledge,” Long said.

Expectations have changed for physical therapists. In the past, they were not part of the diagnostic team, Long said. Once a diagnosis was made, the physical therapist would then work with patients to address the problem.

This is no longer the way things work.

“There are a lot more expectations of us. We have more responsibilities,” Long said. “It’s collaborative now.”

He acknowledges that at times he had doubts about the wisdom of his plan. His job is demanding and he still lives in Lincoln City, where his family established a home years ago. He drives to Lebanon five days a week, which only adds to the long days.

It is all worth it now, however, since the work is done.

“I can’t believe I did this. Why did I do this, I’m 61,” Long joked. “It was a great deal of commitment from my family to let me do that.”

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