Claremont, NH – What does hands-on education look like when it requires hundreds of hours of clinical experience in healthcare facilities that are either only partially open or closed due to pandemic restrictions? The Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Associate Degree program students at River Valley Community College found themselves in a difficult spot this year as they had been shorted their required clinical hours last summer and again this spring. Due to enhanced safety precautions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, physical therapy practices in the region were not able to take students for their practicums clinics. Amanda Couitt, Director of Clinical Education for the PTA at program at RVCC procures and assigns students their clinical education sites for their practicum courses. The students typically work with a licensed PT or PTA out in the field, treating real patients in need of physical therapy.

 “While all students have been assigned to at least one real PT clinic experience, I could not find enough sites to afford each student two real PT clinic experiences as planned.” Said Couitt. To ensure each student had the opportunity to graduate on time with the necessary skills to allow them to enter the workforce, she came up with a creative solution. Couitt created 2 simulated PT clinics at RVCC in Claremont and Lebanon, and also created mock patient scenarios with electronic medical records. People from the community were hired to play the mock patients.  We hired a local Physical Therapist to supervise students at the Claremont site, and Couitt has been supervising students at the Lebanon site.

For 6 weeks, students work full-time with a clinical instructor and the mock patients to complete the necessary components of clinical education.  Each student works one on one with the patient, reviewing charts, documenting their treatments and planning for the following day. “This experience has been arduous and extremely fulfilling. The students’ success speaks volumes.” Added Couitt.

The Physical Therapist Assistant program is the only one of its kind in New Hampshire. Students travel from every corner or the state to attend this program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.   

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