Bridging the Gap

  • Article by: NANCY GIGUERE , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: August 18, 2010 - 10:55 AM

A new online program will prepare military physical therapy specialists for civilian practice.

The easing of restrictions on reimbursement for physical therapy by third-party payers has increased the demand for services. As a result, employment opportunities for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are also increasing. In fact, the demand for PTAs, who carry out treatment plans under the therapist's supervision, is expected grow by 35 percent between now and 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).

"I get many calls from clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities and other employers asking when we'll be graduating our next class," says Jane Worley, who directs the physical therapist assistant program at Lake Superior College in Duluth (www.lsc.edu).

Valuable experience

Some of these positions could be filled by U.S. Army, Navy and Coast Guard veterans trained as physical therapy specialists, a job that is essentially the same as PTA. But although vets have valuable experience and much needed skills, civilian employers can't hire them. That's because many vets don't have an associate degree, which is required for national certification, as well as for licensure in most states.

To remedy this situation, Lake Superior College is creating an online "bridge program" tailored for veterans trained as physical therapy specialists. "We expect the program to be up and running by fall 2011," Worley says.

Prepared for practice

It is likely that veterans will receive some college credit for their service as physical therapy specialists. In addition, they will probably complete general education requirements, some credits in psychology and some technical credits. The program may also include a clinical component that will be arranged in a veteran's local community.

"We want to prepare veterans for civilian practice," Worley says. "And because the program will be online, it will be accessible to vets all over the country."

To learn more about the PTA Military Bridge Program, contact j.worley@lsc.edu.

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