Penn Hills medical school gears up for new classes

Patrick Varine
| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 3:25 p.m.

Diane Bennett of Ebensburg suffered with back pain for more than two decades. Even as a licensed massage therapist, Bennett said, she'd tried every method of treatment, short of surgery, with no relief.

Then, in 2007, she saw Richard Finn at a pain clinic in Pittsburgh's South Side neighborhood.

“He was able to correct the pain in two visits,” Bennett said.

Finn specializes in something called myofascial trigger-point therapy, a practice he has studied since 1984. Myofascial trigger points are an extremely common cause of pain, according to the National Association of Myofascial Trigger Point Therapists website. Trigger points are painful when pressed on, cause a shortening of the muscle fibers, and have a special property called referred pain, meaning that a trigger point in one muscle can create pain in another area.

Finn is the director for the Institute of Medical Careers, or IMC, a small school he started in 1995 at the top of Jefferson Road which is one of the few places in the country where students can learn myofascial trigger-point therapy.

“It's pain relief, as opposed to relaxation, which you would get through typical massage therapy,” said admissions director Katie Mann.

Soon, students will be able to learn other medical specialties.

IMC is in the state approval process to begin offering courses in dental assisting, phlebotomy, and a massage therapy with myofascial trigger-point associate's degree. Programs vary in length from nine to 14 months, and new courses will begin in January.

“We're a small school looking to build its enrollment,” Mann said.

One advantage for IMC is they are now able to offer students financial aid in the form of Title IV funding, FAFSA and other options.

Finn said the school also is in a unique position because of its location in the heart of the east suburbs.

“We just got a new hospital in Monroeville, UPMC East, and we're going to be training people for the jobs they'll be offering,” Finn said.

IMC might find itself at a bit of an advantage when it comes to recruiting east-suburb residents interested in an allied-health career: the Sanford-Brown Institute's website for its Wilkins campus notes that the branch no longer is accepting new-student applications. Sanford-Brown's parent company, Career Education Corp., announced Nov. 5 that it would “teach out” more than 20 campuses across the county, including the Wilkins Township campus.

Allied health careers are a growing field on a national level: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2012-13 occupational handbook, medical assisting, massage/trigger-point and medical billing/coding employment is expected to grow more than 20 percent by 2020.

Finn said it is an opportunity for IMC.

“I'm thinking that a lot of people are looking at that and saying, ‘I want a school that's here in the area.' I think it's important that there's a school like this in the east suburbs,” he said.

Another advantage is the small class sizes at IMC. Mann said classes range from two to 12 students.

“It allows for more time with instructors,” she said. “A lot of adult students haven't been in a classroom for a while, and they need that extra time.”

Bennett, who will attend IMC classes two days per week for a year, is a former nurse. She said she has benefitted from the smaller classes and specifically the trigger-point techniques she has learned.

“This is so effective,” she said. “A massage is good for relaxation, but this is great work for pain relief.”

And the trigger-point message is spreading, in many ways through IMC and Finn. The school's director has taught the techniques in Middle East countries such as Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and during an interview for this story, he said he received an invitation to teach a two-day course in Brazil.

“I'm thinking I could use a vacation,” Finn said, as he smiled.

For more on the Institute for Medical Careers, visit

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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