Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) student and future physical therapist assistant, Jordon Womack, knows that following your dreams sometimes takes a little creativity.
A few years ago, as a student at Eastern Regional High School and a lifelong devotee of basketball and football, Womack was faced with a question familiar to many sports enthusiasts and high school athletes – how could he capitalize on lessons learned through his athletic experience without going pro?
“I really liked sports, but I wasn’t athletic enough to become a professional athlete,” he explained. “Then I learned about physical therapy, which can help athletes and others come back after an injury, and I figured that would be a nice field to get into.”
Womack decided on a career as a physical therapist assistant (PTA), working under the direction of a physical therapist to help patients improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disability. PTAs in New Jersey are some of the highest paid in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with a median salary of $59,910–$69,480 and a job market experiencing continued growth. There were plenty of well-paying jobs in the field, along with the opportunity to make a positive impact on others – the only thing that was missing was a program in Womack’s area.
“When I first had the dream of becoming a physical therapist assistant, the only program was two hours away,” he recalled – which was a problem; Womack was hoping to save money with a local program that allowed him to commute. “When RCSJ’s program was accredited and started up, it was so close to me and I was definitely happy about that.”
He enrolled at RCSJ after graduating high school in 2019. As part of the registration process, Womack was assigned an academic advisor to address any questions, make sure he enrolled in all the right classes and ensure he started off his college career on the right foot.
“My advisor helped me with my classes and made it a lot smoother for me,” said Womack. “She gave me the entire plan of how the program would work, what prerequisites I had to take, a whole timeline and a preview of the workload. I came in feeling very stressed, but by the time I left I had a clear view of the future and what I was going to do. It definitely helped me a lot.”
RCSJ’s PTA program uses a combination of academic instruction and extensive hands-on clinical experience to prepare students for success on the national licensing exam, while encouraging exploration into various specializations, including aquatics, vestibular, neurological, orthopedic and more. While not a stepping-stone into a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, this two-year, associate of applied science program prepares graduates for direct entry into the workforce upon licensure.
“A Physical Therapist Assistant degree from RCSJ provides wonderful career options, without the burden of large loans to pay back upon graduation,” said PTA instructor, Eileen Doyle, PTA, MS. “After two short years, a graduate and licensed PTA can gain employment in a field that is profitable financially and rewarding personally.”
“I’ve liked all my instructors so far; they’ve been fun and really nice,” Womack reflected. “PTA is just a great program. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s definitely a fun experience. As an athlete you already know a little bit about the body – you understand the motions – but once you get into the PTA program it’s easier to connect the dots because you have that previous knowledge.”
The deeply sobering events of the coronavirus pandemic have only increased Womack’s desire to join the ranks of healthcare workers who provide essential care for the sick and the vulnerable.
“As we see in the world with the COVID pandemic, people are always going to get sick and they’re always going to need help, so it’s definitely a good time to get into the healthcare field. And I’m just thankful that RCSJ gave me a gateway to that field. Because we’ll always need our healthcare workers, especially in times like these.”
To learn more about RCSJ’s Physical Therapist Assistant program, available on the Gloucester campus, visit RCSJ.edu/Nursing/PTA.