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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Humber offers unique physiotherapy course

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun

There are two hurdles would-be physiotherapy assistant students have to clear at Humber College. The first is actually being selected as one of the 40 entrants the school accepts every year. The second is acing an introductory course in anatomy and physiology in the first semester of the two-year program.

Maryann Jefferies, program co-ordinator at Humber, is diplomatic about those 12 or so students who, Perdita Felicien-like, crash and fall, describing their failing effort as "attrition."

"We do a course called Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology," says Jefferies. "That's the most challenging course to all of our students. That's the one that, if they're successful in that course, then we see that they have that kind of disciplined way of studying and learning the material (we require)."

The dozen students who fail the course are given the opportunity to write a supplemental exam, Jefferies continues, but even then there's still a handful of them who fail and who must leave the program.

The PTA course began as a one-year certificate program in 1993 and was lengthened to a two-year diploma program in 2002. Students need at least a high school diploma with credits in subjects such as biology, human anatomy and kinesiology.

Classes tend to be 75% female and 25% male, says Jefferies, with many of the men having a keen interest in sports. She goes on to say that about one-third of her students enrol straight from high school, another third have some college, university or work experience, and the final third already have a diploma or a degree. They must also have 50 hours of volunteer or paid employment working with physically challenged individuals.
M. Jefferies
Humber College

Those 50 hours are crucial, says Jefferies, since it helps prepare students for a career working with amputees, stroke patients and those with head injuries. Those students who are accepted into the program should also bear in mind they will also be required to complete work placements in hospitals, long-term care or even palliative care wards.

Tuition in the PTA program at Humber, the only one of its kind in Ontario, is about $2,200 a year.

Other colleges across the province, including Mohawk College in Hamilton and Conestoga College in Kitchener, combine their physiotherapy assistant and occupational therapy assistant programs.

Typically, PTAs work with the supervision of a physiotherapist to get cardiac patients up and moving, to help stroke victims or the brain injured with ambulation and exercise, and they even work with patients after they've had transplants. The age range of their charges can vary, from the very young to geriatric cases in long-term care.
  • The PTA program at Humber College is full time and accepts 40 students a year.
  • Three-quarters of the students in the PTA program are female.
  • Humber requires at least high school graduation for admission into the program.
  • PTAs work with stroke patients, amputees, those with brain injuries and others in hospitals, rehab facilities, long-term care and private clinics.
  • Salary for a newly graduated PTA in the public sector begins at $32,000 a year.

  • Preet Nijjar, a second year student at Humber, says she's interested in a health- care career and eventually she would like to be registered physiotherapist, so the PTA route is useful and practical and gives her plenty of insight into that profession.

    As for the studies themselves, Nijjar is candid. "It's tough. I won't say it's easy. You need to keep up with your work."

    Deanna Mol, a PTA at Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, became interested in her occupation after a co-op high school placement with a physiotherapist. Mol says her research showed Humber to be the best school for PTA studies, at least in part because of the work placement requirements.

    Those placements also frequently lead to full-time employment once a student graduates. And when they do, prospects are fair to good. Jefferies says all of last year's grads are employed, with about 80% of them working in public sector and earning a salary that begins at $32,000 a year.

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