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September 14, 1995

Physical therapy assistant program part of Titusville's efforts to boost enrollment

A physical therapist assistant program designed to start Pitt's Titusville campus (UPT) on the road to becoming "The Gateway to the Health Professions" is being launched this fall with a class of 32 students.

Along with providing residents of northwestern Pennsylvania with an opportunity to receive training in the health sciences without leaving home, the new program also is meant to help attract more students from other areas to UPT.

Coupled with an expansion of programs at the George J. Barco Center for Continuing Education, the physical therapist assistant program is a major element in the efforts of the UPT administration to meet future enrollment goals and maintain the campus's fiscal strength.

Noting that universities everywhere are struggling to attract students and find new revenue sources, Jerry Lazzaro, UPT faculty member and director of public relations, says "The initiative in health care will help the campus survive." An intensive two-year program of 74 credits, the physical therapist assistant program will provide classroom and clinical training necessary to enter one of the fastest growing fields in the country. Physical therapist assistants are in demand at hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and private practices throughout the country.

According to the U.S. Labor Statistics Occupations Outlook Quarterly, demand for physical therapist assistants is expected to increase by 93 percent over the next decade, making it the fastest growing of all occupations requiring post-secondary education.

Pitt has had a physical therapist program at its Pittsburgh campus for years. UPT's physical therapist assistant program is something completely different. It will not duplicate any existing University program.

According to Janet Greene, director of UPT's physical therapist assistant program, the UPT program and the Pittsburgh campus program are on two entirely different levels. Physical therapists do evaluations, set up treatment plans, treat patients and determine when a treatment plan needs to be changed. Physical therapist assistants carry out the treatment plan laid out by the physical therapist and document what has been done.

"They have to be clinical decision makers in the sense that they have to be able to recognize when something isn't working or recognize when a patient's status has changed so that they can notify the therapist," says Greene. "But they don't have near the responsibility of the therapist." In another move toward becoming "The Gateway to the Health Professions," UPT recently entered into an agreement with Pitt's School of Nursing that encourages UPT students to transfer into the School of Nursing after completing an approved one-year course of study at Titusville.

Greene says the School of Nursing has agreed to reserve at least five spaces in its sophomore class for students who complete 24 required credits, meet the grade point requirements and successfully complete two nursing courses on the Pittsburgh campus, one of which is an external studies course.

In addition to the physical therapist and pre-nursing programs, UPT plans to offer an associate degree program for occupational therapist assistants in fall 1996.

Occupational therapists help people to resume their normal daily functions, such as dressing and feeding themselves. Their patients include people who have suffered strokes, spinal cord injuries and have severe arthritis.

Physical therapists work more with people who have injured knees, broken limbs, dislocated shoulders and so forth.

"There is a lot of overlap between the two fields," says Greene. "Where they really separate is that physical therapists deal with gross motor skills, pain and wounds. Occupational therapists deal with fine motor skills and activities of daily living." UPT can only hope that its health sciences efforts will be as well received as its continuing education program.

Established in 1991, UPT's Barco Center for Continuing Education has witnessed phenomenal growth over the past two years. In 1993, a total of 1,274 people attended classes at the center, a figure that more than doubled to 2,772 in 1994.

"We're providing continuing education in computers, leadership, communications skills and so forth for thousands of people in the area," says Lazzaro.

Users of the center come from nine counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. Recent clients have included National Fuel Gas, Miller Equipment, Clarion Fiberglass Manufacturing, Venango Visiting Nurses Association and Clarion/Forest Visiting Nurses Association.

The Barco Center also has trained individuals funded by such agencies as Northwest Pennsylvania Training Partnership Consortium, Inc., New Choices, the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare and the Venango County Assistance Office.

Other recent initiatives of the Barco Center include an agreement with Erie County Technical Institute (ECTI), which subsidizes up to 50 percent of tuition for participants currently in the northwestern Pennsylvania work force.

According to Lazzaro, the Barco Center also is currently developing programs in conjunction with the National Institute of Flexible Manufacturing in Meadville. One joint venture will provide computer training for Meadville area residents. National Institute of Flexible Manufacturing will provide the facility and computer network. UPT will establish the curriculum and provide instruction and software, while ECTI will offer tuition assistance and college credits for participants.

"The reception the community has given the Barco Center has just been amazing," says Lazzaro.

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 28 Issue 2

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