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St. Luke’s Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship program among few in U.S. to receive prestigious accreditation

The St. Luke’s University Health Network Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship program has received prestigious initial accreditation by the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE), making it one of just three programs in the country to attain this designation.

The St. Luke’s Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship is a one-year post-doctoral training program for orthopedic physical therapy specialists to become super specialists in spine physical therapy.

“We have gone through a rigorous two-year evaluation by the Board that has determined that our program meets or exceeds the requirements to train orthopedic physical therapy specialists to become super specialists in spine physical therapy,” said Dr. Stephen Kareha, Director of St. Luke’s Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship.

“The fact that we are one of only three programs of its kind in the country means our patients will receive the very best spine care from our esteemed faculty and fellowship-trained physical therapists. Our spine superspecialists will help patients get the right care at the right time,” Kareha said.

Accreditation by ABPTRFE is a reliable indicator of the program’s value and quality. In receiving initial accreditation, the St. Luke’s Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship program demonstrated its commitment to educational standards and ethical business practices indicative of quality, accountability and continuous improvement that enhances the physical therapy profession. Each program must submit for reaccreditation every five years.

“We congratulate our staff on this outstanding accomplishment,” said Dennis Dougherty, President and Judy Dougherty, Chief Operating Officer, Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s. “At Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s, we encourage continuing education and the development of specialties to ensure that our professional staff has the tools available to be the best therapists possible and the credentials to go with it.”

Dr. Melissa Hager is the St. Luke’s Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship program’s first fellow. She was interviewed by the ABPTRFE committee and performed a live patient evaluation in front of the committee as part of the accreditation process.

“As the first spine fellow selected, I feel honored and am very appreciative for the opportunity that it provided,” said Dr. Hager, Facility Director – Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s Kresgeville.

“Overall, this was a challenging, but amazing experience. I cannot say enough about the overall opportunity the fellowship provided and how much I have improved as a clinician in treating the spine,” Hager said.

The growing number of spine super specialists trained through the St. Luke’s Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship program will benefit patients throughout the greater Lehigh Valley region. Dr. Kareha explains that St. Luke’s recognized the prevalence of spine pain and issues in finding capable care, spurring it to launch its Comprehensive Spine program in 2018.

“Many patients either don’t know where to start, have lengthy delays in getting the right care or see the wrong provider first causing more delays in care,” Kareha said. “Because of these issues, St. Luke’s started the Comprehensive Spine program by bringing together all the specialists that a patient with back or neck pain would need and making it easy for patients to contact.”

The program has received notoriety for its unique approach to spine care.

“The Comprehensive Spine program is so novel and successful that we have gained national recognition and there are many large hospital networks across the country that are working with us to replicate our program,” said Dr. Kareha, who is also chair of the national committee responsible for evaluating and developing the superspecialty of spine physical therapy in the United States.

For more information about the St. Luke’s University Health Network Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship program, visit

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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