HGTC physical therapist assistant program among tops in U.S.

HGTC student Ross Hovis didn’t know until Wednesday that the physical therapist assistant program in which he’s enrolled has been ranked among the best in the nation.

“I can see why,” he reacted to the news. “The equipment and facilities we use are pretty up-to-date.”

In April, the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy cited the program at Horry-Georgetown Technical College as one of 45 in the country where 100 percent of its graduates have passed the national certification exam.

That would be bragging news for any physical therapist program, but it may be even rosier for HGTC because its program is just 3 years old.

Doug Clarke, director of physical therapist assistant programs for the Commission of Accreditation on Physical Therapy Education, said a 100 percent pass rate for the graduates of any program is a significant benchmark. The CAPTE, he said, requires that 80 percent of all graduates of accredited programs within a three-year time frame.

“Certainly if a program is running 100 percent, I’d probably be touting that too,” Clarke said.

Lorin Mueller, managing director of assessment for the Federation, said his organization encourages people not to try to read too much into a school’s pass rate. The 100 percent figure is something officials can be proud of.

The figure may be indicative that the school is doing an exceptional job of educating students or that the program has an exceptional group of students. That HGTC’s program has only had three graduating classes and all have passed the exam is also notable, Mueller said.

“They’ve gotten off to a good start,” Mueller said.

The program at HGTC is demanding, said Larry Kopelman, its director.

“The profession is demanding,” he said. “For [students] to pass the boards, they have to be on top of their game.”

HGTC got the state’s approval to start its physical therapist assistant program in 2006, said Marilyn Fore, the school’s senior vice president for academic affairs. It graduated its first class in 2009.

The program takes 32 new students a year, and Kopelman said there was about a 50 percent attrition rate during the program’s two years.

The 2012 class will graduate in December and take its boards after that, Fore said.

Kopelman said that HGTC has changed course sequencing and expanded lab hours since the program began. The school tracks each student’s outcome to see that it matches program outcomes.

Additionally, Kopelman said, program leaders demand that at least 80 percent of a class pass courses with a grade of 75 percent or better correct.

“Anything less than 75 percent is unacceptable,” he said.

Kopelman said HGTC’s physical therapist assistant laboratories are equal to some physical therapy labs at medical schools. He said he knows of some therapist programs that must do lab work at night in therapy offices in their communities.

He cited local therapy businesses, in particular Atlantic Therapy, as the force behind HGTC’s lab facilities.

Kopelman said the program gets more than 100 applications from around the southeast each year for its limited enrollment, and recruiters call from around the country seeking grads. The program has a 100 percent placement rate for its graduates in jobs that pay an average of $45,000 a year to start.

Hovis decided to take up the training after he found that his BS degree from Clemson wasn’t enough to get him a job. At Clemson, he double majored in Spanish and international health with a concentration on health administration. But the health administration jobs he saw advertised were looking for applicants with experience or a master’s degree.

So Hovis translated part-time for doctor’s offices in Rock Hill, his hometown, and worked for a physical therapy business there, which gave him the bug to move in a new direction.

He said he likes the hands-on work in physical therapy that he wouldn’t have received with an administrative job.

“I didn’t know if I wanted to be stuck in an office all day,” he said.

Additionally, his degree from HGTC will qualify him to be a physical therapy program manager, a job that would let him continue to work directly with patients as well as to flex his administrative muscles.

He is doing clinical work with Progressive Physical Therapy in Myrtle Beach, and said that now he has experience working with the elderly as well as younger patients and athletes. He’s not yet sure what will become his specialty.

HGTC offers its physical therapist assistant students help to prepare them for the certification exam, and Hovis hopes that his class will be able to equal the pass rate set by their predecessors.