18 graduate in first class of Weatherford College Occupational Therapy Assistant program despite long drives and extra program development time.
Rebecca Martin was making a decent living as a respiratory therapist at a nursing home in East Texas, but she wanted to do more with her career. That was two years ago.
Now she is one of 18 from the first graduating class of Occupational Therapy Assistant students who completed the program this past January at Weatherford College.
“I’m a hands-on person,” she said. “On the weekends at the nursing home they (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants) would be there. I asked constantly what I could do to help. That’s how I got started.”
During the six-semester program, Martin and her fellow students met several days a week at WC’s Education Center at Mineral Wells. Many of the students drove in from all areas of the Metroplex or from the Wichita Falls area, but Martin made the trek from Tyler.
“With the drive some of them had to make it can become a real grind,” Program Director Mike McGough said. “They leave early in the morning and don’t see their family until late at night. Then they still have school work, and some worked a job on top of it all. They are really a motivated group of people.”
After being accepted into the Weatherford College program, Martin learned of a closer OTA program, but she stuck with her initial decision.
“I felt it was worth the drive,” she said. “If I had to do it again I would.”
But there were many times the strain of driving nearly 180 miles each way became too much. On top of her classwork, Martin continued to work at the nursing home, raised her child and was faced with a breast cancer diagnosis.
“At times it was hard,” she said. “At times during the class I wanted to give up.”
Martin persevered, and she credits much of her strength to the faculty and her fellow classmates who became like family. She now refers to the other students in her graduating class as her brothers and sisters.
“A couple of the students found out about my medical issues, and they were concerned about how I was doing,” she said. “If I wasn’t at school or if I was late they would start messaging me to check on me… I looked up to them; they looked up to me.”
Now Martin is preparing to take her Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant test. She plans to work as both a COTA and as a respiratory therapist.
“I don’t see myself letting respiratory go,” she said.
Some extra time was worked into the first round of WC’s 20-month program as the new curriculum was ironed out.
“The class was patient as the program developed,” McGough said. “They were the test pilots, and they came through with flying colors. I can’t say enough about them. They were very motivated and patient, and they will make outstanding therapists.”
Martin said the quality of program instructors motivated the class to stick out the extra time. “We had gone too far,” she said. “And our instructors were awesome. Without them we couldn’t have done it.”
The second set of students is on track to graduate in December, and the third round of the program began in January. Only 20 students are accepted each time.
“Last time I had more than 60 applications,” McGough said. “I expect to have that or more in the future. It’s a very competitive field.”