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Physical Therapist Assistant Program Offers Affordable Training

LSC-Online Provides Easy On-Ramp for PTA Program

Dr. Renee Pruitt (standing in white coat), director of Montgomery College’s physical therapist assistant (PTA) program, works with students in the college’s PTA lab.
Montgomery College program director Renee Pruitt has a message for those interested in a rewarding and well-paying career: In just five semesters and for under $5,000, individuals can complete training for the satisfying and growing field of physical therapist assistant, which boasts a starting salary of $38,000 and in many cases offers sign-on bonuses.

“A recent study by the University of Chicago showed individuals in the field of physical therapy among the top three of those most satisfied with their career, just behind clergy members and firefighters, which says a great deal about how rewarding this profession is,” said Pruitt, who was named director of the Montgomery College physical therapy assistant (PTA) program in January. “This occupation garners attention by those with a combined interest in the sciences and in helping people, and it pays off emotionally and financially.”

The Montgomery College PTA associate of applied science degree program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). The two-year course of study includes supervised classroom and clinical experiences, and is designed to prepare graduates for eligibility to take the state licensure examination, which is a requirement for practicing PTAs, said Pruitt.

PTAs provide assistance to patients by implementing the plan of a physical therapist and can work in hospitals, outpatient facilities, rehabilitation facilities, home health settings, schools, fitness centers and sports medicine clinics.

“And the Montgomery College PTA program enjoys excellent relationships with area medical facilities and partners who comprise the more than 95 clinical rotations from which our students can choose,” said Pruitt.

The Montgomery College PTA program is also a unique one:  It is the only one of its kind offered in north Houston and it is also the only one in the state where 100 percent of the full-time faculty are doctorate prepared.

Pruitt, as well as the academic coordinator of clinical education, Nanette Meyer, each hold a doctorate in physical therapy (DPT) from Simmons University in Boston, whose DPT program has been ranked by US News & World Report as among the top 25 programs in the country.

In addition to the stellar academic credentials of the full-time faculty, Pruitt, Meyer, and one of the two adjunct faculty members are also practicing clinicians who continue to see patients when they are not teaching.

“There is that old adage that haunts teaching--those that can’t do, teach, but in this case the majority of Montgomery College PTA instructors are doing and teaching,” said Pruitt. “Our students benefit as a result because not only do they receive the fundamentals in the classroom and participate in clinical internships themselves, but they receive the added benefit of practicing instructors.”

Another benefit is an advisory committee for the Montgomery College PTA program that is rich with experience and well-connected contacts in the field.

“In the six years that our hospital has been in operation, we have had students from the Montgomery College PTA program do clinicals with us and we have been very impressed with their knowledge, ability and level of preparedness,” said Vanie Jones, director of the Center for Rehabilitation at Methodist Willowbrook Hospital. Jones is also president of the Montgomery College PTA program advisory board.

“Our work with Montgomery College as advisory board members allows us to share the qualifications we seek when looking for potential employees, as well as keep those lines of communication open so that we will have a pool of future interns and employees,” said Jones.

And that local market for PTAs is “very good and will only get better,” added Pruitt.

“There are a lot of people out there with a great desire to be a physical therapist, but since the level of education and training to become a physical therapist is moving toward having to have a doctorate in the field, programs such as ours, which is affordable and can be completed in just under a few years, is a very attractive alternative,” she said.

July 2005 program graduate Troy Ferguson summed up his experience with the program and in the profession.

“The entire process left me with a solid base of education and knowledge and prepared me to practice as a PTA in a confident and professional manner,” he said. “The PT profession is very rewarding to one's soul. If you are a people person and like to help people, then this is the profession for you. I love my job.”

Those who want to “test drive” the program might consider taking Introduction to the Profession of Physical Therapy, which is offered online through LSC-Online, said Pruitt.

“The course is a lot like a symposium and is designed to be a self-exploration of the field of physical therapy,” said Pruitt. “We facilitate discussions related to the profession of physical therapy with no right or wrong answer.”

The course does include an excursion, which consists of field trips to two different clinical settings to allow the student to interact with professionals and their work environments, said Pruitt.

“The on-line course works very well for students who are not located near Montgomery College and want to spend more time determining if this is the career for them,” she said.

A new PTA program begins each fall at Montgomery College and accepts 24 applicants. For registration or program information, call (936) 273-7470 or visit the Web site, http://montgomery.lonestar.edu/.

Montgomery College is located at 3200 College Park Drive, one-half mile west of Interstate 45, between Conroe and The Woodlands. For more information about the college, call (936) 273-7000 or visit http://montgomery.lonestar.edu/.
NHMCCD, among the five largest and fastest growing community colleges in Texas, comprise, Cy-Fair College, Kingwood College, Montgomery College, North Harris College, Tomball College, six satellite centers, and The University Center.