How College of Saint Mary DPT is driving meaningful diversity in physical therapy education

College of Saint Mary DPT is focused on addressing health equity in low-access communities. Kira is helping them reach and engage more applicants across the country.

An innovative hybrid program – one of few offered in the United States – College of Saint Mary’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is changing the game for accessible and diverse health care education.

“Many areas of the United States don’t have access to physical therapy services,” shared Dr. Kimberly Varnado, Director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the College of Saint Mary. “Reaching and engaging applicants in those communities can be difficult and, even when you succeed, students who leave their communities to attend school often stay in the city where they studied. So even if you’re enrolling a diverse pool of applicants in an on-campus program, you might not be addressing the provider access issue that we have in physical therapy.”

“Our program is designed to address those health equity issues in our country,” she continued. “When the College of Saint Mary first set out to produce a physical therapy program they were planning to offer it on campus. But when they did a needs analysis what they found was the need for more accessible education.”

Development of the College of Saint Mary’s hybrid DPT program began in 2017, with the program officially launching in early 2020. Ahead of the game in terms of virtual education, the DPT program was a pilot for other hybrid health care programs at the college — one that quickly proved itself to be very successful.

“30% of students in our program are from underrepresented populations,” shared Dr. Varnado. “That’s a great start for such a new program, especially compared to national averages, but we still have a long way to go.”

Focused on preparing physical therapists to work with a diverse patient population and to be advocates for health equity in their communities, the College of Saint Mary DPT knew that when it came to admitting students into their program, soft skills would be critical. 

“That’s what we really like about Kira Talent — it helps us capture the student we are looking for.” 

An admissions process that aligns with program values

When we were evaluating other assessment platforms we noticed that none of them specialized in admissions interviewing,” shared Dr. Varnado. “They weren’t focused on equity in admissions, and that came across in their execution.”

“Kira’s mission of mitigating bias in the admissions process and improving accessibility for applicants made all the difference. And it’s something we’ve continued to see the impact of as we’ve used the platform.”

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One feature that particularly stood out for the DPT admissions team was Kira’s inter-rater reliability dashboard. The dashboard provides teams with real-time visibility into any significant variance in reviewer scores, helping them better train their admissions committee.

“In a traditional review process I’d have no data to compare these differences,” explained Dr. Varnado.

“There are so many checks and balances built into the Kira platform, which ensure that applicants have a fair and equitable chance to gain admission to the DPT program.”

Having assessment responses recorded and available on-demand also means that the college is able to gather multiple perspectives on each applicant. 

“Each reviewer brings a different perspective,” explained Somyoo. “In a one-on-one interview, we wouldn’t be able to ask someone to repeat something or to get someone else’s opinion on their response or their body language. With Kira, we’re able to rewind the videos and share the link with another reviewer to get another opinion.”

“It takes the implicit bias out of the interview process,” added Melissa Griffin, the Graduate Health Professions Recruiter at the College of Saint Mary.

Learn more about the nine most common forms of bias in admissions and how Kira helps mitigate them

“Kira gives us such a candid view of our applicants while allowing us to be as fair as we can be. Having data at our fingertips makes it not only possible but easy.”

“We want to make sure that within this inclusive learning community we’re letting them know that these are things we’re focused on and looking for and that it’s a fair process for them,” Dr. Varnado continued. “Kira makes the admissions process very transparent, and right now our applicants and reviewers want transparency.”

Addressing reviewer and admin fatigue

“In working with program directors around the country, I’ve seen firsthand how stressed everyone is because their faculty are so overloaded,” shared Dr. Varnado. 

“All I keep thinking is that there are little things we can do to make their lives easier. Kira Talent is one of those things.” 

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“Throughout my 10 years working in physical therapy education I always made sure that I was never on the admissions committee because it was way too much work,” Dr. Varnado continued. “With Kira, most of that work is done for you, all you have to do is click a button and download the spreadsheet. So kudos to Kira Talent, because now I’m a co-chair of the admissions committee and it’s such an easy, seamless process that I actually love being on the admissions committee!”

Kira’s integration with Liason’s PTCAS has streamlined the admissions process for the College of Saint Mary’s DPT program even further. After reviewing the submitted applications in PTCAS, successful applicants receive an email link inviting them to complete an assessment in Kira. Once the assessment is complete, a member of the DPT faculty is assigned to review the video recordings.

“Faculty have 48 hours to review applicants but with Kira, it’s such a quick process that they can review an applicant in less than 10 minutes,” shared Nipaporn Somyoo, Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy and admissions committee co-chair at the College of Saint Mary DPT. “I just send them a link and oftentimes I get an email right back letting me know it’s been completed.”

“But if a faculty member is overloaded, say they maybe have a heavier course load one semester or they’re buried in projects, we can very easily go into Kira and assign them fewer applicants,” Somyoo added. “We can even transfer their assigned applicants to be reviewed by someone else.”

“I really appreciate the ease and control of the process with Kira,” she continued. “As the co-chair of the admissions committee, it provides me with the ultimate convenience. It’s seamless for our faculty and it’s efficient for our team.” 

Connecting with the new generation of applicants

“I’ve been part of a residential program where applicants had to dress up and fly in for an in-person interview,” shared Dr. Varnado. “It was stressful for the students and sometimes you don’t get the best interactions with them in person.”

“From watching the videos of applicants, it’s clear that we are working with a generation that is comfortable being on the computer,” added Kyra Gause, Program Clinical Coordinator at College of Saint Mary DPT. “Kira allows students to complete their interview when and where they’re comfortable, and that’s what that generation is used to and has come to expect.”

Read more about what applicants thought of their experience interviewing in Kira

With several classes having now moved successfully through the program, the College of Saint Mary DPT demonstrates a strong case for virtual innovation in healthcare education. 

“We’re challenging beliefs both at our college and in health care education nationally, as other programs can see how we’re reaching applicants all over the country,” continued Gause. “We’re expanding the school’s purview of students.” 

“A lot of programs at College of Saint Mary are now looking to add Kira Talent to their own processes because they see how well it’s working,” added Dr. Varnado. “For us, it was always an obvious choice. The benefits of Kira are something we were sold on years ago.” 


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