Waterbury, Conn. - Students travel to NVCC from all over the state to earn an associate degree in the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program, a degree that will likely put them in the workforce even before they graduate.
For Sandy Kaminsky, 59, that journey came after 27 years of working as a teacher’s aide at a parochial school. Her intentions had always been to become a full classroom teacher but as life happened, her priorities were shifted from schooling to raising her two sons, both of whom are now adults.
Yet even as her sons left the nest, Sandy spent the greater part of the last twelve years taking care of people outside of the classroom. When her husband became terminally ill, Sandy spent three years working with therapists to rehabilitate him at home. Shortly after his death, her sister-in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and Sandy became her primary caregiver.
After undergoing hip replacement surgery herself in 2009, Sandy found herself refocusing the skills she’d learned on her own rehabilitation.
Even though it wasn’t how she'd made her living, Sandy began to realize that she'd been assisting in physical therapy for the better part of a decade.
“Finally, I just asked my physical therapist if there was such a thing as a physical therapist assistant,” Sandy recalled. “It turned out there was.”
Originally a student at Gateway Community College, Sandy took prerequisite classes at Housatonic Community College to prepare for her entry into the PTA program at NVCC. NVCC and Norwalk are the only two community colleges in Connecticut to offer the PTA program.
Through a consortium agreement with Capitol, Housatonic, Manchester, Northwestern and Tunxis Community Colleges, students enroll at and graduate from their home institution while taking all of their PTA classes at NVCC.
“Because of the consortium agreement, our PTA graduates are spread throughout the state,” explains Kathy Plunkett, program director and professor.
During their second year, students earn clinical experience at one of 243 rehabilitation and outpatient therapy centers across Connecticut (and one in New York). Prof. Plunkett says graduates are often offered full-time employment even before they graduate.
In the Class of 2013, which graduated 25 members on Sat., Jan. 18, more than half were already guaranteed work.
Prof. Plunkett noted that this year her students hailed not only from Connecticut, but have immigrated from as far as Peru, Philippines, Poland, South America and Vietnam. Like most community college programs, students’ ages also ran the gamut from recent high school graduates to adults going back to train for second and third careers.
“It’s a diverse bunch,” said Prof. Plunkett. “Some of our students have children who have graduated from college. Our students have been chefs, dog groomers, early childhood educators, fashion designers... you name it.”
So what’s propelling them toward a physical therapist assistant degree? According to the Department of Labor’s 2010-2020 Occupational Projections, physical therapist assistants are the fifth fastest growing labor market for associate degree earners and are projected to earn a healthy starting salary.
The past three PTA classes have sustained a 100% employment rate for graduates, with the majority of students securing employment at the facilities where they are placed for clinical internships.
“We have potential to expand when we move to Founders Hall but those conversations are just conversations right now,” she said.
Nonetheless, the program has had a wide-reaching impact for students that continues beyond graduation.
“This has been an amazing journey,” recalls Sandy. “People really work with each other to get through the program. And we’re all from different walks of life. Even now as we move on to take the CT Licensure exam we’re still studying and working together.”
Sandy currently works full-time at Apple Rehab in West Haven.
For more information about the Physical Therapist Assistant program at NVCC visit nv.edu/pta or call Kathy Plunkett at 203-596-2168.