As our state’s demographics change and our population grows older, many professions are evolving to meet changing needs. Physical therapy is one such profession. The need for physical therapists is rising, according to Jason Morgan, president of Herzing University, located in St. Louis Park. When the need for physical therapists rises, the need for physical therapy assistants (PTAs) rises as well.
The aging of our population and the resulting health care needs was a key factor in Herzing University’s decision to add a PTA program to its offerings, which include dental assisting and occupational therapy assisting, says Morgan. “We’re a career-focused school, so we always try to coordinate with careers that are in high demand. All three [assistant programs] have indicators that the growth in those fields is much higher than average.”
Students who join any of Herzing’s assistant programs can expect a streamlined education that will be rigorous. The programs are designed to fit in with hectic schedules, says Morgan. “We have year-round study— [students] graduate much faster. This allows students to be able to begin their careers sooner and start earning much faster. [We also offer] flexibility with our online courses [for the general education component],” says Morgan.
The education isn’t just theoretical says Morgan. “We have real-world faculty and advisors that come in. Students get to hear from people with experience specifically in their field.”
Tamara Felegy is chair of Herzing’s PTA program and has been working with the program for three years, helping to get it developed and approved by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. (CAPTE). Felegy says Herzing’s approach to finding instructors for their PTA program is different from similar programs. Rather than having classes taught by physical therapists, students are taught by PTAs, so students get an inside look at what is expected.
“[The students] get to ask a practicing PTA all of their questions. ‘What’s the role of a physical therapist and of the assistant? How do you work with a PT?’” Felegy says. The faculty PTAs act as role models for the students, giving them access to people who have the relevant experience.
Felegy says the program’s adaptable learning environment is one of its strengths. “Students can access education at their pacing to form a strong foundation for their careers,” says Felegy.
Felegy says students spend clinical time in diverse healthcare settings including hospitals, long-term care communities and rehabilitation clinics in the greater Twin Cities area. Students must spend 560 hours of the program in clinicals. This allows them to acquire the skills required by the profession. “We have built-in integrated clinicals threaded into the courses, [followed by] a clinical experience,” says Felegy.
Once students have finished the program, they are eligible to take the national PTA certification exam and apply for state licensure. The program prepares students for the exam, both clinically and through classroom teaching, says Felegy.
“We’ve got great community support and partnerships. Many of our clinical sites reach out and want to work with us,” Felegy says. “We … have a really good, diverse group of those that are saying, ‘Yes, we will be able to place your students in our place of business.’”
After students complete the program, pass the national exam and obtain Minnesota licensure, Herzing partners with the sites that hosted students for their clinical training to help them find employment.
There are about 350 PTA programs in the U.S., says Felegy. The small number of PTA programs makes it difficult for some students to gain entrance. Felegy says Herzing combats this problem with an open enrollment system for students who meet the enrollment criteria. Herzing offers scholarships for students who need assistance with funding their education, says Felegy.
Herzing’s first Minnesota PTA class hasn’t yet graduated—the first graduation is slated for December 2020—but students can expect success based on the outcomes of Herzing’s other campuses. Their Wisconsin campus had a success rate of 100 percent for the licensure exam and a 100 percent employment rate, according to Herzing University’s website.
All enrollment and program information is available at herzing.edu.