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Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College’s (NEO) Director of the Physical Therapist Assistant Program Dr. Dawn Smathers was recently honored as part of the Joplin Regional Business Journal’s (JRBJ) Salute to Health Care. NEO President Dr. Jeff Hale served as the emcee for the event. The seventh annual Salute to Health Care was held on March 30 to honor area health care professionals. “Dr. Smathers continues to be an effective leader on campus and in the medical community,” said Dr. Hale. “We are very fortunate at NEO to have her on faculty. Dawn is very deserving of this recognition.” Smathers was nominated for her excellence as an educator and program director. In her work, she is focused on the changing nature of the industry and of classroom needs. To adapt, Dr. Smathers focuses on teaching her students to adopt an evidence based approach for the care they provide. “In health care, we are being challenged to prove why the interventions we perform are actually helpful for the patient. The focus has shifted more to an evidence-based practice and students need to learn how to research diagnoses or therapy interventions in order to best serve their clients,” said Smathers. “Education techniques are also shifting from traditional lecture-style classrooms to interactive classrooms that focus on active learning. This is crucial for PTA students because their education must include not only learning the information, but also learning the hands-on skills necessary in their career.”

Dr. Smathers worked in the industry for over a decade before deciding shift her focus to educating future physical therapist assistants. While maintaining her work on an as-needed basis, she has served as the full-time instructor since 2012 and was named the director of the Physical Therapist Assistant Program in 2016. “I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to work with someone to become more independent after an accident, injury, or birth defect. Our national organization states that ‘every PT or PTA is an educator’ and I apply that to my patients as well as my students,” added Smathers. “I enjoy the interaction that occurs in the classroom and I love to see how my students’ lives change as they work in health care.”

With the little free time Dr. Smathers has, she dedicates her effort to community projects. She organizes supply drives for organizations like Children’s Haven and Watered Gardens, coaches volleyball at the Joplin Y, leads college ministry classes at her local church, and serves as an “encourager” for girls from Diamond High School. The NEO PTA program is a highly competitive program with a 100 percent board pass rate and a 100 percent employment rate within six months of graduation for students who have passed the board exam and are seeking employment as a PTA. For more information on the program, contact Dr. Smathers at dawn.smathers@neo.edu. (Photo: Dr. Dawn Smathers was honored at the event and Dr. Jeff Hale served as the emcee)

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