Faculty Friday: Mike Wong- Transforming Students into Great PT Clinicians

During 23 years of teaching in Azusa Pacific University's Department of Physical Therapy, Michael Wong, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, has poured into the lives of thousands of students, training them to become great clinicians. Wong recently received the James A. Gould Excellence in Teaching Award from the Academy of Orthopedic Physical Therapy as one of the top PT professors in the country. “I was excited, humbled, and honored to receive this recognition,” he said. “But the truly special part was seeing my family, students, alumni, and colleagues who have shared in this journey with me and came to the conference in San Diego to support me. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

When Wong started at APU, his first class had 12 students. Today, the DPT program has cohorts of 74. “It’s been wonderful to see our program grow. Our students and the program are very well respected in Southern California,” he said. The DPT faculty interview each student and make sure they’re a good fit for the program. “What that creates for the classroom is a really motivated, bright, people-centric group of students who are eager to learn. You can’t beat that in teaching,” Wong said. “Uniquely at APU, you have a real focus on great people at the root. It’s the soil that you’re working with in order to grow this young clinician and craft their mind into becoming a great physical therapist.”

In addition to teaching, Wong is a residency and fellowship trained orthopedic clinical specialist. He is also the author of Pocket Orthopaedics: Evidence Based Survival Guide. “I’ve always thought of how to aggregate information to make it easier for clinicians to access the information to make better decisions. I had been making these laminated reference sheets and selling them to schools because there was a need,” he said. Wong was approached by a publisher and put together his first book. “But even with my own textbook and 10 years of teaching under my belt, I realized there were major holes that needed filling. That’s what led us to build PhysioU.”

PhysioU is a software platform with many web apps that assist Wong and other physical therapy professors in their instruction. Because the subject matter is very intricate, it’s taught in a sequential system, but that can present challenges for students. “The students were only able to see a narrow amount of material at a time. We began using a web-based platform to develop complex connections between content they’re learning currently, what they’ve learned previously, and content they have yet to learn,” he said. “We want to build a much more complex clinician who has access to all the material they need to succeed, not just what is being taught in that moment.” Wong and his colleagues created a suite of content which is useful across the entire physical therapy curriculum—everything from orthopedics to cardiopulmonary rehab and neurologic rehabilitation. In 2020, the pandemic led physical therapy programs across the country to begin using the app to support virtual student learning.

Wong also speaks frequently at large physical therapy conferences across the country alongside several notable professionals including Drew Morcos, the PT for the Lakers, and perhaps the most well known PT in the world, Stefania Bell, the injury analyst for ESPN. “Part of my joy in presenting is that I love pulling together great works from researchers and turning it into something that’s easy for people to learn and transform how they practice. We take those opportunities on the platform to teach our own peers very seriously. All of it helps to put APU’s DPT program on the map.”

Reflecting on the award and his time at APU, Wong said he feels extremely grateful to work with a number of talented and respected professors. “As much as this award is in my name, really it is just a representation of a special place where I’ve been able to grow and learn and work together with amazing people,” he said. “APU is one of the great programs. It’s a special place where we can do this good work. We produce some of the best physical therapists in the country.” Wong is excited to see this year’s cohort walk across the commencement stage and graduate from the program equipped to become difference makers in the world. He’s even more excited to see the next cohort enter APU and spend the next three years with them. “It’s truly a joy to be able to help transform students' lives,” he said. “It’s never been a day of work for me in these last 23 years.”