The Division of Physical Therapy and the UNC Student Physical Therapy Association (SPTA) officially welcomed 30 incoming students as part of the class of 2023 at a professionalism ceremony, held online in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deidra Debnam '11 ('15 DPT)
Deidra Debnam ’11 (’15 DPT)

The ceremony highlighted the division’s commitment to professionalism and to providing high-quality patient care for all. SPTA President Lindsay Morrow welcomed the class of 2023 and said the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program provided a community environment with an experience driven toward excellence.

Division Director, Deborah Givens, said the ceremony is a way to recognize the beginning of a career in physical therapy. To mark the occasion, students received a toolkit, which included a stethoscope, medical pen light, and face masks, among other items.

“These tools are your daily reminder to listen, to observe, to measure, and duty to safely intervene to make sure that your patients meet their goals,” Givens said. Givens also said physical therapists are experts of the promotion of movement and are dedicated to improving the health of society.

Stephen Hooper, associate dean and chair of the Department of Allied Health Sciences (DAHS) in which the DPT program is housed, said the professionalism ceremony marked students’ transition into the clinical health sciences.

“Your knowledge and skills must be accompanied by passion for your work and compassion for your patients,” Hooper said. He hoped students will immerse themselves in interprofessional activities, which can foster integrity and connections among providers of various disciplines.

“Your desire to learn should be lifelong—a constant pursuit of integrity, new abilities, and compassion,” Hooper said.

Deidra Debnam ’11 (DPT ‘15) served as keynote speaker. Debnam works as a sports physical therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina. She credited her time as an Allied Health Ambassador and as vice president of the SPTA with developing her passion for leadership and advocacy within the profession. The American Physical Therapy Association recently named Debnam as an emerging leader for her service, which includes work in the realms of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“I really think that UNC’s program not only prepared me to be a physical therapist but inspired me to be a PT who gives back to the profession,” Debnam said.

Debnam said the class of 2023 has already shown their ability to adapt and to be resilient in the face of adversity in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just like you, health care is having to adapt, and you will be better prepared for an ever-changing health care system,” Debnam said. “I’m confident that the dedicated faculty and staff at UNC will do everything they can do to support you in this process.”

Professor Lisa Johnston led recitation of the Carolina Commitment, which highlighted core values and responsibilities of physical therapists, including those of social justice.

The ceremony drew nearly 100 online participants.

Deborah Givens, PT, DPT, PhD, is also a professor in the division. Stephen Hooper, PhD, has served as DAHS chair since 2013. Lisa Johnston, PT, DPT, is also the department’s associate chair for clinical services. In spring 2020, U.S. News & World Report ranked the DPT program as #9 in the country.