Two PT Alums Achieve Rare Perfect Scores on National Exam

By Ben Boulden

Both graduated in May with Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degrees after three years of study in the UAMS College of Health Professions Department of Physical Therapy at the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus in Fayetteville. They are practicing physical therapists today — Hemphill at A. Yumang Rehab Services in Fayetteville and Martinez at Athletico Physical Therapy in Plano, Texas.

In 2021, Abbey Belote, a graduate of the DPT Class of 2021, also achieved a perfect score on the national exam.

After he graduated, Hemphill took a two-month break before starting a job. He set a schedule and used the time to study intensively, focusing on areas where he considered his knowledge to be the weakest.

He also took some online exam preparation courses that helped him determine what those weak areas were and attended some online “boot camps” for them. Hemphill also took three complete practice examinations.

“It helped train my brain to get ready for the long test,” he said.

Given only three times each year, the examination lasts about five hours with only one scheduled break.

“It’s a little stressful,” Martinez said.

His graduation was on a Saturday in May, and by the following Monday, he had started his new job, working on a temporary license. Not only did he feel like his professional future was riding on his exam performance, Martinez felt like his present employment was too.

“I tried to spend time evenings and weekends going through practice problems and tests, but I also was using what I was seeing with my patients as a way to learn and prepare as well,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to come out with a perfect score. I told people I was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the results. I felt good and thought I had passed, but I never would have imagined that I would get a perfect score.”

Hemphill said he was equally surprised.

Besides their hard work, Hemphill and Martinez credited two factors for their success: first, the people in the UAMS Department of Physical Therapy —  their professors, instructors and even fellow classmates —  and the classroom didactic model in which they all taught and learned.

“The department uses a well-designed, flipped classroom structure,” Martinez said. “Learning from textbooks and other materials we did beforehand, then we would talk through cases and how we would approach them. That was a different approach compared to other programs. It wasn’t just book knowledge but how to take that knowledge and integrate it into real cases with real patients.”

Hemphill agreed the program did an effective job of emphasizing active learning.

“Doing self-study, then group active learning and then practical application in that sequence was really good for learning the material, not just reading it and repeating it the next day,” he said.

Martinez said he learned something at every phase, but found talking through the case studies with his fellow classmates and coming up with solutions for the patients in them was intellectually and professionally enriching. It also prepared him well for his job.

“I started seeing patients on my second day after graduation,” Martinez said. “I still have things to learn, but I know I can do that. I don’t think I come across as a ‘new grad therapist.’ It feels like I have been doing it a while.”