Five years ago, exactly on May 3, 2005, the Institute of Physiotherapy, Balneology and Therapeutic Rehabilitation was established, as part of the University of Cyril and Methodius in Trnava, right here in Piešťany. And it was precisely from this moment that the academic history of Piešťany began. This little anniversary provided an occasion for the director of the institute, Dr. Jozef Beňačkom PhD, to review and reflect on the school’s record and results.
The 2005/2006 academic year began with nearly 200 daily and external students enrolled in the physiotherapy program. A year later that number was already up to 280. Interest in the program continued to rise much to the pleasure of the institute’s director: “Presently there are 445 daily and external students enrolled in the 3-year physiotherapy baccalaureate (BA) program. We successfully passed last year’s re-accreditation process that all Slovak institutions of higher education had to undergo, which raised our credit and allowed us to obtain more experienced teachers. And so interest in this type of study has increased. This year, 330 students applied, out of which 132 passed the entrance exam and were accepted: they come from all over Slovakia, from villages in the far-east to Bratislava. This is not surprising, as this year’s baccalaureate graduates are not only from all over Slovakia, but also from Moravia. This is also proof of the school’s exceptionality and specialization.”
The first students successfully completed their studies in 2008, and as of today the institute has produced a total of 382 baccalaureate graduates. They have found employment all over Slovakia, mostly in their hometowns. “We also know of some who travelled a long distance to study here, and after graduating stayed to work in Piešťany,” says the director adding, “Many have also found employment in Austria and the Czech Republic. Besides this, many graduates have also gone on to study for their Master’s degree in the Czech Republic.”
An unavoidable part of higher education is the need to complete scientific research. “On staff we have a number of professors and lecturers, who arrange scientific grants of varied and diverse focus at their main place of work (Comenius University, the National Institute of Rheumatic Diseases). During the past few years, the Institute has held four specialized conferences focusing on the issue of physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Last year we began our own research project and are now preparing the results for publication and presentation at professional forums. In addition to this two magazines have also been started on the premises of the Institute.”
Along with the theoretical preparations, students also have the opportunity to gain knowledge through practical education.
“We have ideal conditions for this in Piešťany. We cooperate with Slovak Health Spa Piešťany, the National Institute of Rheumatic Diseases, the Military Spa Institute, the Hospital of A. Winter, healing house Máj and other private curative rehabilitation facilities, which are all situated directly in Piešťany. In addition to this, students also take a number of trips to the National Rehabilitation Centre in Kováčova and to the Institute for Work Rehabilitation in Bratislava on Mokrohájska Street. Something new is a contract with the University Hospital in Bratislava, where during the semester, students will gain practical, hands-on experience at the Rehabilitation Clinic and Neurological Clinic.”
How has foreign cooperation developed?
“Since we’ve only existed for a short time, foreign cooperation is just now beginning to develop. We had foreign presenters (from the Czech Republic and Italy) at the scientific conferences, which I’ve already mentioned, and the students are regularly lectured to by professors from Masaryk University in Brno, and we’ve also had lecturers from Italy, China and the USA. We are also planning a student and professor exchange with Masaryk University in Brno, where, this year, a similar program of study was established.”
The first five years have confirmed the justification for establishing the Institute as well as its importance. What further plans do you have?
“We are preparing to establish two new programs of study. The first – Radiological Engineering, in order to prepare radiological assistants, and the second – Public Health, with a focus on primary prevention, nutrition and exercise. And there still remains the open question of opening a masters program in physiotherapy, something the baccalaureate graduates are most interested in.”
The level of every school depends in its teaching staff.
“Our teaching staff consists of 55 full-time and external employees, twelve of which have been working here since the Institute opened. The students are educated by, in addition to others, seven professors and eight lecturers. These include for example Jozef Rovenský – Director of the National Institute of Rheumatic Diseases (NÚRCH), professor Jozef Hrčka – former Dean of the Physical Training and Sport faculty, lecturer Myrón Malý – Director of the National Rehabilitation Centre in Kováčova, colleagues from Slovak Health Spa, NÚRCH, the Piešťany, Nitra and Ružomberok Hospitals, as well as from the Hospital University in Bratislava. And last year we received word from physiotherapists and doctors from all over Slovakia expressing their interest in teaching here. We’re extremely pleased with this, as it shows that the decision made by the management of UCM (University of Cyril and Methodius) in Trnava, to establish the Institute of Physiotherapy, Balneology and Therapeutic Rehabilitation in Piešťany was the right one. But, then of course, where else in Slovakia could it be!“
Does the town see it that way?
“Once again I would like to publicly thank the town for the conditions they offered, which allowed us to rent the buildings of the former elementary school on Rázusova Street for a symbolic price. Without this, the first academic foundations in Piešťany would have never been established.