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For Jonathan Bird, Teaching Students in Physical Therapy Assisting is About Creating Connection

August 4, 2020

The path to success isn’t always a straight line.


For many students, that path includes exploring a variety of fields, changing college majors, and experimenting with different jobs before zeroing in on a career they love.


Jonathan Bird was never one of those guys. By the time he began college, Bird had a clear vision for his future.


“When I was a college freshman, both of my older brothers worked in the home health care field as Certified Nursing Assistants,” Bird says. “I knew back then that I wanted to work with patients, one on one, to provide care that would help improve their health and their lives.”


That’s exactly what he’s been doing—and teaching others to do—for more than 20 years. Bird graduated with his BS in Physical Education (with a Physical Therapy emphasis) from Brigham Young University in 1999. Two years later, he earned his MS in Physical Therapy from University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver.


In 2009, after working several years as a Regional Rehabilitation Director for a subacute rehabilitation company, Bird was hired by Carrington College to develop a Physical Therapist Assistant program from scratch.


“When I came to Carrington 11 years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Bird recalls. “Building a college program from the ground up has been challenging on many levels, but my enthusiasm to jump in and create something valuable has really paid off. We’ve had more than 150 students graduate from the program—and we have a new class starting up next month.”


Bird says the  Associate of Science degree program attracts a wide variety of students.


“We’ve had students ranging in age from 18 to 60,” he says. “Some are right out of high school, while others are looking to begin a second or even third career. Students who thrive in the PTA program have two things in common. First, they’re ‘people people.’ They’re outgoing and they have strong interpersonal skills. Second, they’re adaptable. They’re critical thinkers who have good, analytical minds, and they can easily adapt to new information and changing situations.”


Bird’s own adaptability and interpersonal skills have served him well. In 2015, a year after being named Carrington’s Boise “Educator of the Year”, the father of four children—then ages five to 13—earned his Doctorate in Physical Therapy while serving as PTA program director, teaching classes, and operating his own small physical therapy private practice. Two years ago, he was selected by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy to write questions for the national PTA board examination.


For Bird, working with patients and working with students are each gratifying, but in different ways. Both, he says, are about creating a connection.


“With patients, the goal is to help them heal and regain as much movement and mobility as possible,” he says. “Nothing feels better than partnering with patients to achieve a level of improvement and independence they weren’t even sure was possible. With students, it’s about a different kind of growth and progress. I find it invigorating to educate and encourage them, to help them develop their skills and abilities. They often begin the program with self-doubt and so many questions, but leave two years later with self-confidence, answers, and a real sense of purpose.”


Bird says the Physical Therapist Assistant program externship component provides students with practical, real-life experience in a variety of settings.


“Toward the end of their program, each student works in three different clinical settings—including at least one inpatient and one outpatient—over 17 weeks,” he explains. “Some extern at sports clinics, school districts, or in home health care settings. Others extern at nursing homes, pediatric clinics, or hospitals. Wherever they train, they learn how to interact with patients and gain real-life skills that can have a positive impact in the lives of people who need them.”


The Physical Therapist Assistant program is offered at four Carrington College campuses: Boise, Idaho; Las Vegas, Nevada; Mesa, Arizona; and Pleasant Hill, California.

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