USAHS Miami: Integrating Technology in Rehabilitative Health

As a leader in graduate health sciences education, University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences embraces innovation

Using virtual reality to experience a patient’s environment and understand their physical challenges or communicating via a two-way robot that can deftly maneuver around a patient’s bed are important skills in today’s healthcare environment. That’s why the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) in Miami leverages the latest technology to teach the next generation of rehabilitative professionals. 

“We embrace innovation. It ensures our graduates can succeed as practitioners and change agents in their professions,” says Miami-based Vivian Sanchez, Chancellor of USAHS, a national institution with five campuses including one located at the historic Douglas Entrance in Coral Gables. Sanchez, who has led an impressive expansion at USAHS over the last eight years, says the future of physical and occupational therapy integrates technology with direct patient care. 


After a multi-million dollar retrofit at the Douglas Entrance location, USAHS serves over 600 students in 10,000 square feet of space devoted to graduate programs in rehabilitative health. That singular focus sets USAHS apart. The inpatient simulation hospital unit, robotics, driving simulators and other technology are used solely by the USAHS community.  

The cadaver lab, or wet lab–traditionally the domain of medical schools–is used by PT anatomy students. Microsoft HoloLens allows students to use mixed reality to take a deeper dive in the wet lab and the virtual dissection Anatomage tables in the dry lab. The head-mounted HoloLens augments the student’s reality. 

A Culture of Innovation

“Innovation isn’t only technology, and not all technologies are innovative,” says Maria Puzziferro, PhD, Associate Chief Academic Officer and Vice President, Teaching, Learning and Innovation. “To us, innovation is the process of developing approaches that make education more accessible, maximize learning, and prepare students to meet society’s evolving healthcare needs.” 

Dr. Puzziferro leads USAHS’ Innovation Steering Committee (ISC), which tests new solutions and technologies. “We ask, ‘Does it solve a real educational or healthcare problem?’ Then we design research-based pilots that inform whether or how the solution will be integrated within and across the university. This iterative transformation is the heart of our innovation culture,” she says. 

Sanchez, who oversees campuses in three states, says the state-of-the-art simulation centers, along with community clinical partnerships and pro-bono clinical experiences, provide invaluable experience and expose students to a wide range of patient populations. 

Community Connections

Students at the Coral Gables campus conduct weekly pro-bono clinics to enhance mobility for Parkinson’s patients. Research by USAHS faculty indicates that interventions to prevent falls don’t slow the progression of the disease but mitigate some of its debilitating effects and improve a person’s quality of life. 

Vivian Sanchez, Chancellor and CEO of USAHS

Born and raised in Miami to Cuban parents, Sanchez is a product of Georgetown University’s renowned School of Foreign Service and holds an MBA from Harvard. She had a successful career in international finance before turning her sights on higher education. 

In 2004, lured by the opportunity to effect positive change in the community she loved, she joined Florida International University (FIU) as Chief Financial Officer & Senior Vice President for Administration. Sanchez played a pivotal role during a transformational time in FIU’s history, including the creation of a medical school. Inspired by the lasting impact of higher education, Sanchez moved on from FIU to serve in various executive leadership roles including overseeing a network of universities across Latin America followed by a global coalition of internationally renowned universities.

Under Sanchez’ leadership, USAHS enrollment has tripled and campuses in five thriving cities are poised to fill critical workforce gaps in those regions. Becoming the nation’s largest degree-granting institution in graduate rehabilitation programs, USAHS alumni are estimated to be treating more than 500,000 patients each week across 50 states and 21 countries. 

USAHS opened 45 years ago as the Institute for Physical Therapy, the first independent school to confer a graduate degree in physical therapy. Today, the University has campuses in California, Texas, and Florida, where the school is investing over $73 million to relocate the St. Augustine campus this year to a retrofitted historic building.

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