PTA Students practice hands-on skills with a wheelchair

Physical therapist assistant students get hands-on skills to treat patients

Renee Lawyer was a personal trainer familiar with helping people reach their fitness goals when she entered Penn State Mont Alto's Physical Therapist Assistant associate degree program knowing she herself would need professional support to succeed in her educational goals.

She found the support she needed.

"I really fell in love with the physical therapist assistant program. All of the professors were really helpful and would go out of their way to help students. It was nice to have that support," Lawyer said.

Lawyer was one of the students pursuing a career change when she enrolled in the physical therapist assistant degree program, while others are entering physical therapy as their first career. The associate degree allows graduates to collaborate as a team member working with physical therapists.

The program boasts 100 percent job placement.

"It's a rigorous program, but we take a real, personal interest in our physical therapist assistant students," said Renee Borromeo, the program's coordinator and senior instructor.

Penn State Mont Alto's graduates are working in hospitals, private physical therapy clinics, nursing homes, and centers that serve people with special needs.

Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, the Penn State Mont Alto curriculum prepares students to pass their national licensure exam. All graduates have passed that exam in recent years.

Susan Brubaker remembers her graduating class gathering for a celebratory meal after everyone passed the licensure exam, saying her classmates bonded as they mirrored the kindness shown to them by faculty.

"It gives you confidence this is the place for you. I feel honored I was able to go through the program," Brubaker said.

Brubaker was in her 50s when she retired from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, where she worked with its health and physical education initiatives.

"It was time to leave the prison and find a new way to help people. This made sense in my mind," she said.

Lawyer similarly wanted to find a hands-on way to help people. Today, she works in an outpatient clinic that helps people contending with traumatic brain injuries, strokes, Parkinson's disease and joint replacements.

Observation sessions coordinated by Penn State Mont Alto allowed Lawyer to watch real-world applications of physical therapy as she choose an area of focus.

"That really steered me in the direction I wanted to go," she said.

Brandon Wentz found the post-graduation transition from school to career to be an easy one. He is working in physical therapy at an outpatient center.

"Between the classwork and the clinicals, I felt well prepared for my job. In clinicals, the biggest takeaways were focusing on patient care and time management skills," Wentz said.

Wentz now shares with patients and coworkers about his experiences at Penn State Mont Alto.

"I tell people all the time I recommend it. There are patients coming in looking to change careers or people in tech positions," he said.