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Live! Inside a Physical Therapist Assistant lab

In this series, we provide a closer look at hands-on learning during COVID-19.

While COVID-19 means online learning for most Tidewater Community College students, some are back in the classroom for hands-on training. In fact, more than 400 sections of classes in interior design, automotive, health professions, welding, veterinary technology, culinary arts, visual arts, electronics technology and other programs have on-campus components. 

Learning skills together

Inside the Regional Health Professions Center on the Virginia Beach Campus, physical therapy assistant students engage in multiple role-playing scenarios as part of their hands-on learning. Ever had an ankle taped following a sprain?

Second-year students practice on each other to prepare for their upcoming clinical rotations, which begin in November.  The simulation labs for the fall also include cervical pain due to whiplash, lower back pain due to lifting and anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. The students will be tested on 11 patient scenarios before they head to a clinical setting.

Student voices

“I researched PTA programs in the area, and TCC’s was the best one,” said Naomi Nevarez. “The graduation rate was super high, so I applied and here I am!” 

 “The hands-on aspect and being able to learn patient scenarios is my favorite part about this program,” said Cassie Noe. “The professors are always here to listen to you. If you are struggling, they are here to help you.” 

“This feels like less of a program and more of like a family,” said Phillip Leonard. “We are trying to make it through this program together, and that’s what brings us closer. The connections you make with the students and professors make it worth it.” 

 “TCC has the best reviews out of everyone that I talked to,” said Celeste Gilley. “The ones who really want to be a PTA do their research when looking for a program, and TCC’s PTA program had it all.” 

About the instructors

Melanie Basinger, program director, has been with TCC for 24 years. Basinger holds a bachelor’s in physical therapy from Ithaca College, a master’s in physical therapy from Old Dominion University and a doctorate in physical therapy from Shenandoah University.

Caitlin Culver at work taping a classmate.

“I love the energy of the students and the spark in their eyes when they get it,” said Basinger. “I love watching their success.”

Katie DiSanto, associate professor, earned a bachelor’s from Virginia Tech and a doctorate in physical therapy.

 “Seeing it come full circle in a clinical setting is my favorite thing about this program,” DiSanto said. “All the sacrifices and the hardships that you endure over the years are completely worth it when you can change people’s lives.”

Instructor Katie DiSanto with Melanie Basinger, program head.

Good to Know

Admission is competitive for TCC’s nationally accredited Physical Therapist Assistant program, as only 32 spots are available. Five pre-requisite programs are mandatory; Basinger also recommends applicants complete BIO 142 and a humanities elective. While the program requires 40 observation hours for admission, applicants with 200 hours or more put themselves in a better position to be accepted. Applications must be submitted by April 15.

“When you graduate from this program, you are going to be highly sought out by employers. This program is better than any other program in the area, and I would put my students up against anybody,” Basinger said. “We have high expectations of our students and this is a program of excellence not average.”

Sign up

The program offers a one-hour virtual information session the third Thursday of every month at 4 p.m. Email Basinger at to receive the link or for further information.