Cecil College PTA program earns distinction

Published on January 14, 2022

NORTH EAST, Md. – Cecil College’s Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Program has achieved the unique distinction of earning a ten-year accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation and Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) in its first attempt. What makes this achievement monumental is there were no citations or requests for more information, which are issues the program needs to modify.

“Typically, a program receives its ten-year accreditation with some issues to address, but we did not have any. This is very unusual, which speaks to the strength of the program,” said Director of the Physical Therapist Assistant Program Deanna Smith, PT, MPT.

Cecil College launched the program in January of 2015 with a five-year accreditation that included comments to be addressed. Typically new programs are awarded five-year accreditations until the curriculum and the outcomes are strong enough for the extended ten-year status.

“When a program is brand new, CAPTE assesses it more frequently. The program design receives initial approval, then the accrediting body assesses the outcomes to ensure students are properly trained and graduates are successful in the workplace,” said Smith. “We have continued to demonstrate excellent outcomes with each graduating class. In addition, the program met or exceeded all goals and CAPTE’s Standards and Required Elements.”

Cecil’s PTA program rose to national prominence when 100 percent of the first five groups of graduates passed the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) on their first attempt. These results exceed the national and local averages in exam performance in all subject categories on the NPTE. It was noted in the CAPTE accreditation report that the collaboration Cecil’s PTA program demonstrates with the other healthcare programs at the College has strengthened the PTA students’ exposure to other aspects of healthcare.

“Cecil College’s Physical Therapist Assistant program is led by devoted faculty dedicated to student success and this success is demonstrated by the exceptional  passage rates our students have achieved for the past five years.  My congratulations to everyone who played a role in the outstanding accomplishments of our Physical Therapist Assistant program,” said Cecil College President Mary Way Bolt.

In addition to the healthcare programs, the entire College community has been very proactive in providing exceptional support to the PTA program, with robust relationships with faculty and staff, the library, the writing center, the career center, advising, admissions, and registration, and the Cecil College Foundation.

Adding to the challenge of earning this accreditation was the pandemic. The initial site visit was scheduled for Summer 2020, but due to Covid-19, it was postponed to October 2020 and then again until June 2021. The process took more than two years as reports were revised with updated statistics and data.

“They were very impressed with the professionalism and the thoroughness of us meeting all the standards and requirements,” said Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education Kelly Yeager. “One of the barriers was organizing and then rewriting the report to update the numbers. There was also the challenge of juggling the schedules of our stakeholders and members of the accreditation committee to arrange virtual meetings.”

The accrediting team interviewed a total of 68 stakeholders to confirm data that the program provided. Some of those included were alumni from the classes of 2018, 2019, and 2020 and members of the PTA Advisory Board. Additionally, clinical and professional partners included Penn Medicine – Lancaster County, Penn Medicine – Chester County, Harford County Public Schools, Innovative Physical Therapy, WellSpan Health, University of Maryland Medical Center, LeeAnn Nelson Physical Therapy, Pivot Physical Therapy, ATI Physical Therapy, Smith and Prothero Physical Therapy and Genesis. “The program is grateful to our faculty, graduates, current students, clinical partners and Cecil College colleagues for interviewing with the team and supporting the program’s mission,” said Smith.

To keep students on track for graduation during the pandemic, the PTA faculty and staff had to revise the delivery of the program to a hybrid format by breaking classes into smaller groups to allow for social distancing and provided part-time on-campus,  clinical and virtual courses. The team working on the accreditation documents tracked and accounted for all the modifications, including flipping some of the curricular orders to accommodate the remote learning.

“The clinic delays were difficult to overcome as we ensured our students fulfilled the required hours. We had to combine two clinical training sessions to ensure our students would graduate on time. Other changes we documented included our faculty teaching classes multiple times due to the smaller size of the groups,” said Yeager.

This 10-year CAPTE accreditation for Cecil College’s PTA program is effective through Spring 2031.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for PTAs is to grow 30 percent from now through 2026, with the average starting salary in the State of Maryland being $54,490. Career prospects are favorable for PTAs, with more than 98 percent employed within six months of licensure.