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University of Nebraska Medical Center

UNMC DPT Program making an impact with Lifestyle Medicine

American College of Lifestyle Medicine logo

by Tessa Wells, PT, DPT

It’s no secret that the healthcare sector in the United States is a challenging environment to be in, regardless of your role. The population is getting sicker, the costs are rising higher, and provider morale is dipping lower. A few years ago the UNMC physical therapy education program asked a big question, “What can we do about it?” Part of the answer to that question lies in the redesign of UNMC’s Doctor of Physical Thearpy program curriculum – and the purposeful threading of Lifestyle Medicine throughout the student experience. This curricular exposure is opening doors for UNMC DPT students and graduates.

Lifestyle medicine is a medical specialty that uses therapeutic lifestyle interventions as a primary modality to treat chronic conditions.* The approach focuses on 6 “pillars”: healthy diet, physical activity, stress reduction, restorative sleep, social connections, and avoidance of risky substances.

UNMC DPT students are introduced to the concepts of Lifestyle Medicine relative to their own health as a student. As they progress in professional development, that lens widens to care of individual patients and for communities in which they live and work. While learning to apply the principles of Lifestyle Medicine to themselves, they are simultaneously prepared to engage with patients and communities to improve societal health.

Outcomes demonstrate improved overall student wellness, connectedness, and psychological capital measures of hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism. UNMC DPT faculty member Tessa Wells, DPT, presented this concept and outcomes on behalf of the program at the American College of Lifestyle Medicine Annual Conference in Denver in fall 2023 and was asked to present about the program’s Partial Pathway experience in Orlando at ACLM24 this fall.

The American College of Lifestyle Medicine now recognizes the UNMC DPT Program as the fourth DPT program in the country as a Partial Pathway Program. This designation is reserved for healthcare professional programs whose curriculum contains at least 22 of the 88 Lifestyle Medicine Competencies – UNMC’s DPT curriculum covers 53. The ACLM Partial Pathway provides students with a more immediate path to certification in Lifestyle Medicine, should they choose to pursue that specialty upon graduation. It also serves as a beacon to future UNMC students that the UNMC DPT program values their health and students and future providers – and that we can team up to make a positive health impact in the lives of the patients, clients, families and communities that we serve.

Program director Betsy J. Becker, DPT, PhD, noted that “integrating lifestyle medicine into the curriculum is advantageous for students, future patients treated by UNMC DPT alumni, and their communities. The collaborative effort to incorporate such curriculum threads has been embraced by our faculty and students. We are further motivated by the positive outcomes observed throughout the three-year curriculum.”

* American College of Lifestyle Medicine

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