Students from the Tyler Junior College Physical Therapist Assistant program gained firsthand experience in patient advocacy during a recent visit to Washington, D.C.
On their first stop, the group of nine students toured the American Physical Therapy Association headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia.
“APTA is a professional organization, and our students are members,” said Dr. Christine Melius, TJC PTA program department chair and professor. “We incorporate their website and information into our classes so that our students know how to use it, whether it’s for research papers or looking up current events. It’s a huge resource, plus we’re trying to help them understand the importance of being part of a professional organization and why that’s a value to them as clinicians.”
During discussions with APTA representatives, students learned about current information regarding physical therapy, how to advocate for the profession, collaborating with other clinicians, making connections and a variety of information about different avenues for student involvement.
“We had people talk to us specifically about advocating for physical therapy,” Melius said. “That was even helpful for us as faculty because we found new avenues for our students to learn that we will be incorporating into our classes. They gave us some specific talking points that are the focus for the PT profession right now.”
Their next stop was to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, also in Alexandria.
“One aspect of the federation is they develop the board exam, and they promote safety in the profession,” Melius said. “The mission of the federation is to protect the public by having a board exam that really assesses someone’s safety as a clinician and looking at regulations. We asked them to speak to our students about different roles in which they could serve as clinicians and PTAs under the umbrella of their organization.”
Armed with new information from those in-depth discussions, the students immediately put what they learned into action during a meeting with U.S. Rep. Nathaniel Moran (Texas Congressional District 1) at the U.S. Capitol Building.
TJC student Cristina Medina, of Tyler, said, “At APTA headquarters, we received guidance before our meeting with the congressman to be more prepared on the issues that are more controversial for East Texas and affect the delivery and access of physical therapy within our region. I learned that our opinions matter and that there is someone out there willing to listen to our concerns.”
“Our students did a great job,” Melius said. “We, the faculty members, didn’t even sit at the table. The students were sitting at the table with him, putting into action what they had learned at the APTA headquarters and what was threaded into their curriculum.”
She added, “Congressman Moran was very receptive and gave some interesting ideas for future engagement and things we will follow up on as far as activities we can do with our students and maintain connection with him. He’s very accessible and personable, and he was very good with our students, who were just learning how to do this. We couldn’t have asked for a better first experience with a congressman.”
The students also worked in some tours and sightseeing, including the White House, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, a few Smithsonian museums and a tour of monuments.
“In one of my class lectures, I talk about Franklin Roosevelt, his physical limitations and how it was integrated into the monument. So, the students were looking for it on the monument tour,” Melius said.
In the first Roosevelt statue, the president is seated with a long cape draped around him.
“That cape is hiding his wheelchair,” Melius said. “But if you look behind it, you can see that there are very small wheels on his chair. That was the original main statue of Franklin Roosevelt. Years later, the disability rights community said, ‘Why are we hiding this?’ Of course, FDR also hid it because that was the culture at the time. Later, another statue was added with him prominently in a wheelchair. So, it’s a great monument and connection to the changes in disability and publicity about it.”
Educational trips such as these are what Melius and her colleagues call “college beyond the classroom.”
“These experiences can put our students ahead professionally as well as personally,” she said. “Think about when these students are applying for jobs and there are potentially five other PTA applicants — but one has an entry on their resume about meeting with Congressman Moran in his office in Washington. It’s also a real boost of confidence for them, to learn they can move around out in the big world. Some had never been on a subway, and they began going out and finding their way around the city.
“These are highly valuable educational experiences, and I am so proud that TJC offers these opportunities for our students.”
About the program
Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) provide physical therapy services under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist and assist the physical therapist in the treatment of individuals with medical and health related conditions which limit their ability to perform functional activities.
The goal of physical therapy treatment is to restore function, reduce pain and prevent disability. PTAs provide care for people in hospitals, outpatient clinics, patient’s homes, schools, work settings, nursing homes and fitness facilities.
The TJC PTA program is five semesters long and includes three, six-week clinical rotations under the supervision of a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant. TJC faculty members provide a combination of individual attention, a friendly atmosphere and a small student-to-faculty ratio.
For more on the TJC Physical Therapist Assistant program, go to TJC.edu/PTA.