More students coming to TTU to prepare for physical therapy, occupational therapy and wellness caree

Posted by Lori Shull - Monday, December 05 2011


thumb EXPW1In the past four years, enrollment in Tennessee Tech University’s exercise science, physical education and wellness department has grown by an unprecedented 452 percent.

In 2006, the program had 59 students enrolled. Last year, there were 326. Though enrollments in many TTU programs have increased, EXPW has seen the largest percentage jump.

“Certainly, the whole field of health is growing,” said department chair J.P. Barfield. “I think the interest in this field is growing because you can get into health, you can get into sports, you can get into education.”

Job forecasters predict that the need for physical and occupational therapists, as well as athletic trainers and other healthcare professionals, is increasing.

“With baby boomers growing older, the need for rehabilitation is growing all the time, so the demand for physical therapists and occupational therapists is increasing,” said Larry Burks, a physical therapist and owner of Putnam Physical Therapy Services.

New concentrations within TTU’s EXPW department, including pre-physical and pre–occupational therapy, are largely to credit for the increased enrollments, but faculty and staff are adding support programs and reaching out to students to keep the momentum going.

“I think it has a lot to do with the relationships we have with our students,” said instructor LaNise Rosemond, who is known to her students as ‘Coach Rose.’ “They see the faculty working together as a team and they feel like this is home.”

This year the department began a mentoring program between upperclassmen and first-year students, which has been popular so far. In addition, faculty arrange mock interviews with TTU Career Services, teach life skills about preparedness and timeliness and help arrange field experiences. About eight TTU students have field experiences with Putnam Physical Therapy every year, according to Burks.

“We’re looking not just at academics,” Barfield said. “We’re looking at how you’re looking to improve yourself as a person.”

That preparation seems to be paying off; a record number of 2011 graduates reported that they got into graduate school for physical or occupational therapy.

“The program not only helps you when you’re in school, but it helps prepare you for what you’re going to do when you get out of school,” said pre-physical therapy senior Linzi Robinson. “More than anything else, it’s the faculty. They really care.”

Of the 69 EXPW graduates in 2011, 25 told their professors when they got into graduate school. Students are not required to report graduate school acceptance to their alma maters.

“After a student graduates, we hear most often that students appreciate that their undergraduate studies at TTU were difficult because it helped them prepare for their next step,” Barfield said. “Whether it’s graduate school or some other professional school, they felt prepared and that’s a good feeling.”