Past grads celebrate OC therapist assistant program

Okanagan College proudly celebrated a quarter century of therapist assistant diploma student successes.

Patricia Harris

At 71 years of age, there’s no stopping Patricia Harris’s continued momentum in providing excellence in rehabilitation to those in need.

Boasting a health care career that spans a half-century fueled by passion and compassion, Harris is a recreation therapist assistant at the Village at Mill Creek, an assisted living and residential care facility in Kelowna.

It is a role the single mother of four pursued 25 years ago upon returning to college as a mature student.

At a commemorative reception held Sept. 24 in Kelowna, Okanagan College proudly celebrated a quarter century of therapist assistant diploma student successes. Harris was on hand to reconnect with her then-classmates and current colleagues in the industry to mark the occasion.

“I remember studying 25 years ago and the skills instructors passed on to us as students have always stayed with me,” recalled Harris, a member of the 1990 program intake and first graduating class.

Previously a practical nurse, Harris was working as an activity aid in Kelowna when she heard about a new program at the college that would offer the three pillars of physical, recreational and occupational therapist assistant training.

When it launched in 1990, the program was known as the rehabilitation assistant certificate program. It has now expanded into a two-year nationally accredited diploma.

“I’ve always worked in the health field. It felt like it would be something for me,” said Harris.

When she returned to the classroom at age 46, Harris experienced a healthy dose of fear and wasn’t totally sure about going back to school and jumping in next to 20-year-olds pursuing the same studies.

“The first four months I thought, am I going to be able to do this? I had homework every day,” recalled Harris.

“It was a learning curve, but the instructors encouraged me and took the extra time to help explain things I didn’t understand. At one point it just clicked and by the time I graduated I felt I could keep going.”

“As an educator, it is extremely satisfying to bring 25 years of alumni together. They’re a great example of the successful careers the program has generated,” said Jennifer Stephenson, chair of the college’s therapist assistant diploma program.

“A total of 574 therapist assistant graduates have come through our doors at the college to date and we’re seeing a real increase in people interested in training in this field.”

The program has 40 students starting their studies this year, with a waiting list of 20. Stephenson adds that it’s a good thing there is a demonstrated interest.

With an aging baby-boomer generation she anticipates an increase in demand for therapist assistants to provide support in the community.