New Accelerated Physical Therapy Assistant Program Steps it Up For Faster Graduation

Return to Issue of Aug. 2, 2010 


Students in the Physical Therapist Assistant program
The Physical Therapist Assistant Program at Kent State University at Ashtabula now offers an accelerated version of its program that helps Certified Athletic Trainers (ATC) shave almost half the time off earning an associate degree in order to also be licensed as a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA).

Launched in June 2009, the ATC to PTA Transitional Option is the first accredited program in the country for ATCs to utilize the knowledge and skills obtained in their athletic training degree to earn a degree as a PTA in 14 months instead of two years with a traditional program.

The transitional option is offered in an online format with students attending on-campus labs twice each semester in a three-day-weekend format.

“It is a very good program for students because it allows them to work throughout much of the program and earn their degree more quickly and conveniently,” says Mike Blake, the director of the Physical Therapist Assistant Technology Program at Ashtabula Campus. “Certified Athletic Trainers can earn credit for what they’ve already learned. The program is flexible in that it’s mostly online and allows them to continue to practice in their current careers.”

The students’ coursework includes four different clinical rotations approximately four weeks each and the accelerated program has as few as nine scheduled course required for completion, while the traditional PTA program has 24 courses.

Blake says that the program was developed over the past few years and helps students bridge the two knowledge areas of athletic training and physical therapy. In the past, students had to go through a traditional two-year program, in which they were not able to receive credit for their previous ATC courses. A significant benefit of the transitional option, Blake says, is that students become dually certified, making them more marketable in this economic climate. The U.S. Department of Labor reports PTAs as one of the fastest growing careers and projects that from 2008 to 2018, the need for PTAs will increase by 33 percent with a projected need of 30,500 PTAs.

In August, the first class from the ATC to PTA Transitional Option graduates. Twenty-eight students have been admitted into this year’s program, which started in June.

Laura Pruitt, a resident of Indiana who has been working as an ATC for more than 20 years, is part of the program’s first graduating class.

“The way that the healthcare system has been, athletic trainers are getting squeezed out of jobs. It kind of came down to needing this license to get a decent job,” says Pruitt, who teaches at College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati and is also a personal trainer. “I think the program will benefit me immensely.”

Pruitt said the PTA degree will qualify her to take a board exam that will allow her to work at rehab centers and other clinics. She also praised the efforts of her instructors to make the accelerated program manageable as many of the students are working professionals.

“It was a really great experience, meeting all the people in the class and discovering everyone has a common bond—either they lost a job or were going to lose their job until this program came along. The instructors were really great. Doing 25 credit hours the first summer was overwhelming but they made the [intense] program as bearable as possible.”

Jason Matthews , former head athletic trainer for the Columbus Crew who has been an ATC for 10 years, agrees.

“This program allowed me to continue to work and the time frame was better to get it done quickly,” says Matthews, of Columbus, who works for Ohio Health. “The program and instructors have been very supportive and helpful. They were always willing to accommodate schedules and changes as needed. They understand what we are going through working and attending school.”

Classmate Mindy Smith also has plans to take board exams to expand her employment options. She echoed her classmates by saying that the instructors were insightful.

“ I decided on this program because it took in consideration the knowledge I had from being a certified athletic trainer and I was given credit for my previous studies, ” says Smith, who has been an ATC for 13 years and works at Clinton Memorial Hospital in Wilmington. “ The program is geared as a review of our current skills as well as a focus on new materials. The instructors are very knowledgeable as well as helpful with all aspects of the program. This transitional program is a wonderful opportunity for athletic trainers who want to further their skill set and give themselves more employment opportunities.”

Classmate Kevin Robertson of Concord Township mirrored Smith’s sentiment about the instructors’ efforts in the program. Robertson started in the traditional PTA program and switched to the accelerated option when it became available.

“The program and its instructors were great … I can say this with confidence knowing what the coursework was like traditionally. I realize that I was still afforded the right amount of information to prepare me for board [exams],” says Robertson, who has been an ATC since 2002 and works full-time at AGM Physical Therapy in Concord Township while in the program. “They really bonded easily with the ATCs and are able to express an appreciation for where our background and experience has led us.”

“I could more easily work my full-time schedule and have the overall coursework finished before that of the traditional [program]. Likewise, I could engage with others who were all of a familiar background to mine,” he adds.

Robertson says completing the accelerated program will give him more leverage and marketability within the physical therapy industry.

“The information and education [I have received] has now strengthened my delivery of service to patients which is ultimately the goal of any competent therapist,” Robertson says.

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By Erin C. Perkins

Return to Issue of Aug. 2, 2010 

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