Santa Fe College will provide Gainesville’s first physical therapist assistant program beginning fall 2016.
Amy Babb, program director beginning this fall, said the community expressed the need for a PTA program, especially because of newer health care rules.
“Medicare and other health insurances are paying wellness and prevention now, and physical therapists and physical therapist assistants are experts at it,” Babb said. “They don’t just prevent falls and injuries, but they help you live a healthy lifestyle.”
Rob Middaugh, physical therapist at Fit For Life Physical Therapy in Gainesville, said some practices hire PTAs over physical therapists because it’s more cost effective.
Middaugh said a lot of PTA programs closed when the insurance market crashed but with the market coming back up, about 10 to 20 programs are starting in the state.
“Because of the high number of programs, it might oversaturate the market,” he said.
Babb said the the PTA degree is a year-and-a-half long program. The college will only accept 24 students per year.
“We don’t want to flood the market with students,” she said. “We want to keep the student-to-faculty ratio low.”
She said students will intern at local hospitals, sports clinics, private practices and with home health care throughout the program.
“There’s a huge need for rehabilitation help,” Babb said. “There are a lot of different settings that the students can work in.”
Students also have to complete 10 hours of observation with physical therapists before beginning the program.
The college is still working on receiving specialty accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Babb said accreditation won’t be achieved until after the first cohort begins taking courses.
Babb also helped establish a PTA program at Hodges University in Naples, Fla. She said the program passed accreditation with “flying colors.”
Sheila Lucas, director of Health Science Counseling, said students who are interested must go through a two-step application process.
Students must first apply to Santa Fe to take general education prerequisites. The advising office will then help students determine which classes to take to be eligible for the second application to the technical core program, she said.
Applications to the PTA program are due in March 2016.
Tuition for the 74 credit hours the program requires, including the general education prerequisites and the core technical program, will cost $7,827.98 for Florida residents and $28,261.60 for non-Florida residents. Tuition does not include lab fees, books or other costs.
Babb expects high application numbers, despite other PTA programs at the College of Central Florida in Ocala and Florida Gateway College in Lake City.
“State schools have hundreds of applicants each year for their programs, especially because they have capped enrollments,” she said. “We already have 60 interested students.”