When Meridian Community College alumna Cara Horstman checked her computer the results of her physical therapist assistant certification exam, she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her.
“So, I quickly logged out and back in again and was surprised to see that same number. I still didn’t believe it, so the next morning, I logged back in again and took a screenshot,” she said.
She sent that image to her former instructor MCC Physical Therapist Assistant Program Coordinator Dr. Tommy Winston, and he assured her she was reading it right.
Out of a possible score of 800, Horstman posted 800 – a perfect score on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).
The NPTE is the standardized licensure examination that measures the ability of graduates of physical therapy and physical therapist assistant programs to operate as an entry-level professional. “The exam offers licensure uniformity, in that graduates must score 600 or greater to pass the exam and become a licensed physical therapist assistant,” said Dr. Winston.
“Cara went far and above the minimum passing score. She scored the highest scaled score someone could possibly obtain - 800/800. To my knowledge, this rare feat has never been accomplished in the 20-plus year history of this program,” Dr. Winston added.
Physical therapist assistants play a supporting role in applying patient care components, gathering data related to the treatments provided and collaborating with a physical therapist to modify care as necessary. The position is considered a top healthcare support job.
Horstman graduated from the program in May, and she and her family have moved to Texas, so she will start looking for work in earnest. “I would love to work in an inpatient setting, such as a skilled nursing facility or even a nursing home, where I have the opportunity to work with geriatric patients and help them achieve their highest level of rehabilitation,” she said.
Her desire to help others in this healthcare arena reaches back to when she graduated from Texas A&M University with a bachelor of science degree in health in 1996. “However, I am a military spouse, and we have moved around every few years,” she said.
With her husband being assigned many Navy deployments, it was practical for her to have a job that allowed her to be at home when her children were home from school. “So, I taught preschool for many years,” she said.
A gymnastic injury and a subsequent eight-week physical therapy regimen that her daughter endured rekindled Horstman’s interest in healthcare. “I was amazed at her progress and loved going to all of her appointments and speaking with the therapists that helped her get back to where she was before the injury,” she said.
When her husband was sent to NAS Meridian for his final tour before retirement, Horstman was excited to see MCC offered the Physical Therapist Assistant Program.
“Being stationed in Meridian, near a school with the program and my youngest now in high school, I felt like it was the perfect time for me to go back to school to fulfill my dream,” she said.
MCC’s PTA Program is a competitive, five-semester study, and only 14 students are admitted each fall. “What I loved about the program is the small class size, Horstman said. “We were given the opportunity to really get to know each other and become almost like family over the course of two years,” she said. “During lab time, we are required to participate in a lot of hands-on learning, and for me, knowing each one of my classmates and being comfortable around them made it easier to perfect my skills.”
As a part of the studies, students gain practical experience through various clinical rotations. The Spring 2020 semester was different; the PTA program’s clinicals were cut short due to COVID-19. “Our instructors did everything they could to keep us in clinicals as long as possible, which I really appreciated, but we eventually had to stop,” she said.
However, the learning continued with writing daily case studies, which had the by-product of preparing Horstman for her board exams. “Even though I dreaded each day that we did for those case studies, I do owe Jenny Bryan (academic coordinator of clinical education and instructor) a big thank you for these assignments,” she said.
Her instructors are pleased. “There are no words that can express how honored and proud Jenny and I are to be a part of her therapy education,” said Dr. Winston.
Horstman was selected as the Outstanding Physical Therapist Assistant Award recipient from her graduating class. This accolade highlights the student with the most distinct academic and clinical performances throughout their time in the program, Dr. Winston noted.
He added, “She has and continues to set the bar high for what students can achieve when they commit themselves fully to the academic process.”