New Doctor of Clinical Exercise Physiology degree program receives Illinois Board of Higher Education approval

Cemal Ozemek (right) checks the vitals of a cardiac rehabilitation patient (left) while discussing an exercise plan.

A new professional doctorate program in clinical exercise physiology will prepare students for careers in a wide range of outpatient settings—and teach them the business skills to manage a clinical practice.

The new program in the Department of Physical Therapy is the first of its kind, said Cemal Ozemek, clinical exercise physiologist and PT clinical associate professor.

Traditionally, students pursuing a clinical career as a clinical exercise physiologist earn a master’s degree, while those interested in becoming researchers strive for a Ph.D., Ozemek said.

“The value that’s delivered by having a professional doctorate for students interested in pursuing a clinical career—that hasn’t been available.”

Ozemek said the new DCEP program is conceptually modeled on the professional doctoral program in physical therapy, which includes rigorous didactic training and clinical rotations that prepare students to be effective practitioners.

A national survey sent to graduate-level exercise physiology students, program managers and professionals showed strong demand for a doctoral program in clinical exercise physiology, said Ozemek, who has published a paper on the idea.

“As the only DCEP program in the country, we’ve already attracted a lot of attention and we have a long list of interested students.”

The program will expand on material presented at the master’s level, teaching students to use exercise interventions in treating patients with complex clinical conditions like advanced heart failure, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer. Students will have the opportunity to train to become certified diabetes educators and registered diagnostic cardiac sonographers.

In addition to clinical training, students will learn how to create business plans, work with employees and other skills necessary to manage a practice.

This breadth of training will greatly expand career opportunities, Ozemek said, including inpatient and outpatient cardiac rehabilitation, pulmonary rehabilitation, bariatric exercise programs, cancer rehabilitation, cardiopulmonary exercise stress testing, diabetes education and cardiovascular sonography.

The first class of eight students will begin in fall 2022. Plans call for a class of 20 students within five years, with further expansion possible.

Applicants must have a master’s in kinesiology or exercise physiology, plus 100 hours of clinical experience.

Besides Ozemek, other PT faculty working to develop the DCEP program are Hannah Ozemek, exercise physiologist and director of cardiopulmonary exercise testing; Mohamed Ali, researcher in rehabilitation and healthcare serves; Grenita Hall, director of the PT physical activity clinic; and Deepika Laddu-Patel, researcher in lifestyle/behavior change and health promotion.

For more information on the program, email Ozemek at ozemek@uic.edu.