Growing as an educator through the Doctor of Health Sciences program at RUC


Julia Castleberry, DPT, D.H.Sc., ’21 started her journey to a doctoral degree in 2017. She said the balance of working full-time, raising her sons, caring for a small farm and commuting long distances for work limited how much time she could dedicate to her studies.   

“It certainly required some good time management skills,” she said, adding that she began the Radford University Carilion (RUC) Doctor of Health Sciences (D.H.Sc.) program by taking one course at a time.

The self-paced curriculum and 100% online coursework are some of the most popular aspects of the D.H.Sc. program since it allows professionals to work on their terminal degrees in harmony with the other demands in their lives.

“A colleague had begun the program,” Castleberry recalled, “and it inspired me to take a look to see if it was right for me.”

At the time, Castleberry had been a practicing physical therapist for almost 30 years. She earned a master’s degree in physical therapy from Duke University in 1993 and a clinical transitional doctorate in physical therapy through a hybrid program at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011. However, she decided to move into academics as a founding faculty member of Radford University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program in 2010.

“Learning through trial and error was not the best for me or my students,” Castleberry said. “As a clinician, you do not receive training to teach and assess student learning. Instructional strategies and active learning skills require intention and guidance. Those were skills I needed to develop, and I found that in the D.H.Sc. program, I was able to do that.”

Castleberry said that collaborating with the faculty in the D.H.Sc. program was invaluable as she grew as an educator. She cites the support and mentorship of program director Jeannine Everhart, Ph.D., MCHES®, associate professor Diana Willeman-Buckelew, Ph.D., and professor Lisa Allison-Jones, Ph.D.

“Returning to school can be overwhelming,” Castleberry said. “Technology, writing skills and overcoming old habits can be challenging. I found RUC and the D.H.Sc. program supportive and accessible for me.”

Castleberry said that communication was key to facilitating her learning and academic success in the program, and the instructors provided multiple pathways to communicate and encourage peer networking.  

In 2016, Castleberry moved to teaching at Emory & Henry College’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program and has since earned tenure at the institution.

“Working with community members and the students, including physician assistants, occupational therapists, physical therapists and nurses, has been wonderful,” Castleberry said. “As I progressed in my academic career, I realized I needed to develop my skills to facilitate student learning and success. As I worked through the D.H.Sc. program, I was able to implement real-time changes and improvements to my teaching, content organization and presentation, assessments and feedback.”

Castleberry said that the ability to build not only on your strengths, but also to develop the skills you need for your chosen profession is one of the best outcomes from the D.H.Sc. program for her. Candidates in the D.H.Sc. program can choose to focus their studies on one of three areas that will support their professional goals, including healthcare administration, community and public health or education and academia.

“The D.H.Sc. program has had a significant impact on my career and on my students,” Castleberry said. “Students and peers have asked for my ‘toolkit’ of teaching materials and community programming. I can’t think of a better compliment to the program than to have others want to learn from me what I learned at RUC. I highly recommend the D.H.Sc. program to challenge yourself and strengthen your skillset in the workforce.”

May 18, 2022
Mark Lambert