Polk State Physical Therapist Assistant grad inspired to help others ‘in my own way’

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

Jessica Barber grew up proudly watching her mother serve as an emergency medical technician and a nurse. When it came time for her to decide what she would pursue as a career, she was inspired by her mom’s commitment to helping others, but she wanted to forge her own path — one without “blood and guts,” she said.

Barber will graduate with her Associate in Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) on December 8 with Polk State College’s 129th class at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.

“I don’t know how exercising with people – physical therapy – popped into my head, but what I saw most of my life was my mother helping people,” she shared. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do, but in my own way.”

“I chose Polk State over anywhere else because not only was it the closest to my home, but it also offered an affordable option that was going to get me to where I wanted to be.”

Barber admitted that she was never really a “school person,” but Polk State “made it fun and made it feel like a family,” she added.

“I’ve always had a hard time in school, but even though the classes were hard, everyone at Polk State has been here to help, from the instructors to the other students,” Barber said. “We developed a tight-knit family in the end.”

Polk State PTA is a limited-admission program that accepts only 24 qualified students in each cohort. The program’s application will be open from January 15 through February 16 for the next cohort starting in the Summer 2024 Term.

Program graduates boast a 100% licensure pass rate (2022-2023) and a 100% employment rate for graduates (2021-2022), with the median pay for physical therapist assistants and aides reaching more than $57,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Polk State really did set us up to be PTAs in the end,” Barber said. “With all the different classes, the checkoffs, and three different clinical rotations, it really prepared us for the next step in our careers.”

“Polk State really did set us up to be PTAs in the end. With all the different classes, the checkoffs, and three different clinical rotations, it really prepared us for the next step in our careers.”

Barber, who served as a physical therapist technician prior to enrolling in the program, explained how the clinical experiences provided through the Polk State PTA Program have enhanced her knowledge and skills.

“I had three different clinical settings – outpatient, inpatient, and home health,” she explained. “As a technician, I was familiar with outpatient, for example, but seeing it firsthand and getting that experience definitely made me a better professional.”

Throughout her time in the program, Barber worked for a primary care office to make ends meet. In later semesters, she also benefitted from Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF).

Although saddened to leave the current practice she serves, Barber is looking forward to her future in the PTA role and is already planning to build on her education and credentials. A former lifeguard, she is interested in pursuing Continuing Education Units in aquatic therapy.

“If I could incorporate that specialty on top of my license, it will give me a competitive edge in the field to be able to work with patients in a pool setting, for example,” she explained. “I want to continue learning and increase opportunities for being hired.”

Barber is currently interviewing for PTA positions.

“Completing my degree feels like a weight off my shoulders. I didn’t quit, I stuck through it, and I made it to my goal,” she said. “But there is no end goal. I can always learn something, and I look forward to growing as a PTA.”

Individuals who are interested in Polk State’s PTA Program can visit polk.edu/pta and are invited to attend upcoming informational sessions in December and January, which is a requirement for the upcoming application period.