Dec. 29, 2015 |As the inaugural physical therapy class at the UAMS northwest Arkansas campus in Fayetteville finishes its first semester, students are as enthusiastic as ever.
Student Scott Van Camp finds it both humbling and exciting to be a part of the first class headed by John Jefferson, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Physical Therapy in the UAMS College of Health Professions.
“We’re pioneers of the program,” the 38-year-old said. “When I was first interested in applying, I took a tour with Dr. Jefferson. There were still wires hanging from the ceiling. But his enthusiasm and attitude when talking about what the program would become made me want to be a part of it.”
Before physical therapy school, Van Camp of Fayetteville spent many years working in the restaurant business and was a manager for 10 years.
“I lived comfortably, but I didn’t find the work personally fulfilling,” Van Camp said. “I wanted something that I was excited about doing. I wanted to really help people.”
Van Camp chose physical therapy because he enjoys the interactions with the patient. After his first semester, he’s not sure which specialty of the field he wants to enter.
“Every clinic I’ve visited, from geriatrics to pediatrics, I’ve said to myself, ‘Oh. I really like this.’ I’m going to have a hard time choosing which area of physical therapy to enter.
Angel Holland, D.P.T., is director of clinical education for the physical therapy program. She says all the students are very driven to do their best. The UAMS program is unique in that it allows the students to apply real-world scenarios very soon after learning the concepts in class.
“The students work alongside professional therapists in their first semester,” Holland said. “It helps them to apply the knowledge immediately and allows them to see that what we’re teaching in the classroom really has value. It’s not just something they have to memorize.”
Gracie Frizzell of Little Rock became interested in physical therapy because of her basketball career at the University of Mississippi. As an athlete, she’s dealt with her share of injuries and sometimes required physical therapy. She gave up her last year of eligibility to attend UAMS and become a physical therapist, finishing her career ranking third on the all-time-three-point field goal list at Ole Miss.
“Being able to come back after an injury successfully was a great feeling,” Frizzell said. “I wanted to be able to help give that feeling to others.”
Frizzell says one of the most rewarding experiences she’s had so far in the physical therapy program was working alongside a therapist whose patient was unable to move his legs and arms. By the end of his therapy, the patient was walking.
“It was incredible,” Frizzell said.
The small class size was one selling point for Texas native Kyle Roliard. The former Colorado Rockies pitcher also had received physical therapy during his sports career. Like Frizzell, he wanted to return the favor to others.
An injury ended Roliard’s baseball career, so he decided to pursue his other dream of becoming a physical therapist.
“My wife happens to be from Fayetteville,” Roliard said. “It just worked out so well. I enjoy the class size. We’re able to really get to know each other.”
The physical therapy program accepts 24 students per year. With four full-time faculty members, it allows a low student-to-faculty ratio and more opportunities for individualized instruction. Students also enjoy the inter-professional education they receive by being able to work with occupational therapists, speech therapists, nurses and doctors.
“A physical therapist has to learn how to interact with the full health care team for the good of the patient,” Holland said.