The University of Maine at Presque Isle is helping to expand options for area residents who want to pursue healthcare careers by taking major steps this fall to develop a Physical Therapist Assistant program. When it is accredited, the program would be one of two Physical Therapist Assistant programs available in the State of Maine.
"We couldn't be more excited about the development of this program at the University," UMPI President Don Zillman said. "This is going to open many doors for those who want to work in this particular healthcare field and don't want to travel hours away to get their training. The PTA program is an important addition to our range of healthcare program offerings – which includes Medical Laboratory Technology, Athletic Training, and our pre-medical concentration in Biology – and is helping us to provide even more instruction in the STEM fields. With careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math as the largest growing job sector in Maine, providing degree programs like this is of the highest priority and is helping to fill an important need for the state."
The University has hired Christopher Rolon to develop the associate degree program and bring it through the two-year accreditation process with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education [CAPTE]. Rolon comes to the University from River Valley Community College in Claremont, NH, where he was an Associate Professor and Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education from 2007 to 2011. At this stage in the process, UMPI's PTA Associate of Science degree program is considered a developing program.
Already, Rolon has begun working with area hospitals to develop partnerships and collaborations with the program, and hospital officials say they are excited about seeing this program come to northern Maine.
"We are very happy to finally have a PTA program being developed in the County at UMPI," Heather Caron, Lead Therapist at The Aroostook Medical Center, said. "TAMC has the only Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit north of Bangor and we are excited to have the opportunity to work with these students both during their education as well as in their professional careers. We look forward to a cooperative learning relationship with the University."
"The new Physical Therapist Assistant program at UMPI will have multiple benefits," said Leslie Anderson, who serves as the Director of Physical Therapy at Cary Medical Center and teaches in UMPI's Athletic Training program. "There is a great local need for Physical Therapist Assistants and we have some talented candidates from right here in the County. The healthcare sector is one that offers highly desirable career opportunities and if we can provide that training here locally, we have a great chance to interest people in remaining in Aroostook County."
As Rolon works to develop UMPI's Physical Therapist Assistant program in the next two years, he has a timeline full of objectives to meet. In addition to hiring an Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education in the next several weeks to round out the program staff, he will apply to CAPTE in March 2012 for UMPI's program to become a Candidacy Program. If successful, he will begin phase II of accreditation.
"I'm hopeful that by the summer of 2012, the University will receive the go-ahead for the professional phase of the program so we can begin offering the technical courses during the Fall 2012 semester," Rolon said. "Students would complete two semesters of technical courses, a semester of clinicals, and then the first cohort of students would graduate in August of 2013 and become eligible to sit for a national PTA exam."
Rolon explained that the University would become accredited with the successful completion of the first graduating class.
"We have plenty of work still ahead of us but so far this fall, in collaboration with the Athletic Training department and local physical therapy professionals, we've been laying the foundation for the program with development of policies and procedures, the new curriculum, equipment needs, and clinical site contracts," Rolon said. "There has also been tremendous interest and excitement generated in the community. We've had dozens of inquiries and many current students, alumni, and transfer students plan to apply for the technical phase of the program starting next fall."
Rolon brings to UMPI extensive experience in the fields of athletic training and physical therapy. Between 1995 and 2007, he served in several capacities, including a staff physical therapist, athletic trainer, and personal trainer. He holds a Master's degree in Physical Therapy from UMass Lowell and a Bachelor's degree in Physical Education/Sports Medicine from Keene State College in Keene, NH. He is a Maine State Licensed Physical Therapist, and a member of the state and national American Physical Therapy Association.
As Rolon focuses on the foundational work ahead, UMPI officials are looking forward to completing the accreditation process and officially establishing the program.
"Our PTA program responds to the health workforce needs of the northern Maine region and the state," Clare Exner, Chair of the College of Professional Programs, said. "We are pleased to be preparing students for careers in this growing field."