June 24, 2018
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New UMPI physical therapy assistant program nearing accreditation, building student base

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With its strong education and recreation curriculum, the University of Maine at Presque Isle attracts students from across the state and nation who are interested in teaching people how to be healthy and to use the tools at hand to maintain a solid physical fitness level.

Having conquered those fields, the college is now looking to teach students how to assist and support those who are not as healthy due to a variety of factors. The campus is one step closer to that goal as they continue to develop a physical therapist assistant program.

Last year, UMPI began the necessary two-year accreditation process by hiring Christopher Rolon to develop and lead the associate degree program. The college recently learned that it had achieved candidacy status from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, which puts UMPI closer to earning accreditation.

College officials are developing the curriculum in order to create a new option for local residents who want to pursue health care careers close to home.

Michael Sonntag, UMPI provost and vice president for academic affairs, said recently that the new status will allow the college to accept a class into the technical phase of the program.

The PTA program will feature a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum that will prepare students to become licensed physical therapist assistants. The licensed PTAs will work under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist.

The creation of the associate degree program is timely, as figures from the Maine Department of Labor revealed that the state employment outlook for physical therapist assistants puts it among the top 20 fastest-growing occupations in Maine.

Rolon said that eight students are currently taking PTA courses, and UMPI has twice that number of students completing their general education requirements in order to apply for a spot in the program next spring.

According to the UMPI website, the proposed curriculum will include courses in kinesiology, therapeutic exercise, neurological interventions and three student clinical experiences in various physical therapy settings.

Developing the curriculum has been a significant responsibility for Rolon, who has worked with area hospitals to create partnerships and collaborated with UMPI’s athletic training department and local physical therapy professionals to lay the foundation for the program.

Rolon is now working on other milestones that need to be completed in order to achieve accreditation.

The college already has a state-of-the-art lab in Wieden Hall that will be a major classroom for students. The facility is outfitted with the latest equipment to prepare students for the various physical therapy settings they will encounter in their professional careers, including wheelchairs, electrical muscle stimulators and ultrasound machines, weights, balls and bands, and a smart projector system that responds to touch.

A secondary lab mirrors a hospital and features an electric hospital bed and equipment to monitor a patient’s vital signs.

The campus held an open house this past weekend as part of its homecoming celebration in order to showcase the labs that will be used by students.

A final decision on accreditation is expected in November 2013.

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