Over the next several years, Virginia Western Community College will launch three healthcare programs formerly offered by Radford University Carilion (RUC) to provide continuity for students and continue to feed the talent pipeline for these in-demand fields.
When the fall semester starts Aug. 22, the College will take its first cohort of students into the new Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program. After completing prerequisite courses, students typically complete the program in two years. They gain clinical experience in the second year and ultimately earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in Physical Therapist Assistant. RUC’s final cohort graduated in spring 2022, and Virginia Western expects 24 students in this inaugural class.
“We’ll keep graduating students and sending them into the workforce,” said Marty Sullivan, Dean of Health Professions at Virginia Western, noting that more than 70 percent of graduates go straight into the workforce. “The timing worked perfectly, so we can make a seamless handoff and keep meeting the needs of physical therapy employers.”
The program’s transition from RUC to Virginia Western has been in the works since 2019, when Dr. Jordan Tucker was hired as Program Administrator to develop the curriculum, plan the campus laboratory space and procure equipment and resources. The full accreditation process takes several years, but application for candidacy was awarded in 2021, allowing the College to accept the first cohort and ensure that students graduate from an accredited program.
Demand for PTAs is strong, especially in the Roanoke Valley, according to Tucker. Jobs exist in long-term care facilities, acute care and rehabilitation hospitals, home health care and outpatient clinics. On average, entry-level PTAs earn $33 an hour for positions in the Roanoke Valley. Students can apply to join the fall 2023 cohort until Feb. 15, 2023.
Another new healthcare degree program, Surgical Technology, will be offered beginning this fall. RUC has transferred sponsorship of the program to Virginia Western, allowing second-year Surgical Technology students at Radford to finish their degree this year at the College; incoming first-year students will complete the entire curriculum at Virginia Western. RUC has discontinued this program.
Virginia Western will lease lab space at Radford, and the transition will ensure students experience no interruption to their learning.
In addition to the PTA and Surgical Technology programs, Virginia Western has begun the process to start an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program. The first cohort will begin in fall 2025 with 20 to 24 students. In the meantime, RUC will continue offering the program, and Virginia Western will put everything in place to gain accreditation. This includes hiring a program director, creating the laboratory, purchasing the equipment and developing the curriculum.
Transitioning these programs to Virginia Western makes them more affordable to students, with lower tuition costs and numerous scholarship opportunities available through the Virginia Western Educational Foundation and new G3 state funding for healthcare career tracks. It also demonstrates the collaborative spirit Virginia Western has with other higher ed institutions.
“Together, we recognize the needs of the regional workforce and are responsive to those needs,” Sullivan said. “We know how important it is to keep the workforce pipeline growing so employers can find employees right out of local programs, and we’re creating creative solutions to meet those needs.”