The touch of success

By: Dylan Nelson

Alumni and faculty members of the PTA Program at Whatcom gathered to celebrate the program’s 20th anniversary in early May. Photo by Dylan Nelson.
Alumni and faculty members of the PTA Program at Whatcom gathered to celebrate the program’s 20th anniversary in early May. Photo by Dylan Nelson.

20 Years of Physical Therapy Assistant Degrees Celebrated

Alumni and faculty of Whatcom Community College’s Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) Program celebrated its 20th anniversary May 3 of this year at Syre Student Center.

The celebration was an opportunity for old friends, classmates and faculty to share their experiences and reflect on the time they spent working with a program that has continued to grow since their involvement.

“When I went to take my first test I burst out in tears and told my teacher that I couldn’t do it. She looked at me and said ‘Yes you can. I believe in you.’ That changed me,” said Jaime Van Beek, a PTA faculty member and Whatcom graduate of the program.

The event was attended by dozens of alumni, former faculty members and their families. The graduating classes represented by the alumni in attendance ranged from the class of 1994 to the class of 2013.

A wide variety of ages and demographics are represented in the program, said Heather Greig, 24, who graduated from the program in December 2013. “Our youngest student turned 21 during the class,” she said.

The program gives a lot of opportunities for graduates, Greig said. “If you don’t want to be a nurse but still want to help people physical therapy is a good alternative,” she said.

“It’s definitely a challenging program,” she said. Despite the intensive course load “it was worth it. It was so much fun,” she added. “In the end we all became friends and it became more personal.”

“I spent three hours a night studying and came in for labs on the weekend,” saidTaylor Richardson, 36, who is graduating from the online program in June.

Other than test grades, students are graded on how much of a caseload they can carry, saidRichardson. “A PTA student can see six to eight patients a day,” he said.

The program first began at Whatcom in 1993 and at the time took two years to complete before the curriculum changed in 1996 and became what the program is now, said Margaret Anderson, program coordinator.

It changed again in 2005 when Whatcom gave students the opportunity to complete the program online. “It is the exact same curriculum but was set up as a part-time program so it takes 9 quarters to complete,” Anderson said.

“The program has an 85-95 percent retention rate. It is important to us that our students not just get into the program but that they stay through graduation,” she said.

After commencement, PTA graduates have one more test pass, Anderson said. “When students graduate they have to take a national licensing test. Both our online and on campus students hit about a 94 to 96 percent pass rate,” she said.

Anderson said during a tour of the Health Professions Education Center (HPEC) that in an orientation speech at the beginning of the program students were told “they cannot get married, they cannot get pregnant, they cannot get divorced, they cannot buy a house, they cannot sell a house, they shouldn’t move, they can get a cat but they can’t get a puppy.” She later explained that it was “of course, all ‘tongue in cheek’” advice, but that there was some wisdom to it as the program is very competitive to get into and extremely time consuming once it starts.

The HPEC, which was opened to students in fall 2013, is not actually owned by Whatcom yet, Anderson said. According to a press release from the Whatcom Community College Foundation, the college was aware of the lack of state funding to finance a building for the new college and came to an agreement with the developers of the building.

Under the agreement the project developers lease the building to the Foundation, who subsequently leases building to the college.

“By working locally to find a funding solution, the college was able to immediately address capacity and equipment issues,” explained the press release.

Richardson advised students to drink a lot of coffee and read every page of every book they are given. “You learn a lot from patients, from the people you work with, and you will be unable to learn everything about physical therapy from a book,” he said.


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