Physical Therapy Assistants is professionals who have done Physical Therapy Assistant Programs and earned an associate’s degree in physical therapy. They work with Physical Therapists in a variety of healthcare and other institutions. The main focus of their job is to take some of the pressure off of physical therapists by performing a variety of tasks which free up the physical therapist to do the more specialized treatments.
PTAs perform a variety of tasks, some of which are administrative and others which are clinical. They work under the direct supervision of a qualified physical therapist. Very often the PTA and the PT will work together on one patient as certain treatments require more than one individual to perform. All of the treatments and various tasks that are performed by a physical therapy assistant have one aim behind them, and that is to ensure the rehabilitation and comfort of a patient.
Physical Therapy Assistant Job Description
Physical Therapy Assistants, together with Physical Therapists, provide essential services to those who are injured, those who are suffering from a medical condition or have suffered some sort of trauma. The goal of physical therapy is the improvement of the patient’s flexibility, fitness and strength; to relieve them of pain and to improve their quality of life.
The duties of a Physical Therapy Assistant include:
- The preparation of physical therapy equipment.
- The observation of patients during treatment.
- Assisting patients with their exercises.
- Coordinating patient treatment in conjunction with physical therapy staff.
- Administering ultrasound, electrical stimulation and massages.
- Measuring a patient’s progress during the weeks or months of physical therapy.
- Reporting the outcome of treatment to the physical therapist.
- Recording a patient’s response to the treatment they are receiving.
- Assisting patients to move to or from a treatment area if necessary.
- Keeping the treatment area and the equipment clean and organised.
- Administrative duties like scheduling appointments, manning the telephone, ordering supplies, etcetera.
- Fitting patients with support devices such as walkers, crutches etc and instructing the patient on how to use them.
Physical Therapy Assistant Requirements
The one important fact about physical therapy which escapes most people is that it is not just about helping a patient to get back to complete health, it is also about knowing how to get through to people who are difficult cases in such a way that they respond positively to you, and to motivate them to want to do the exercises in order to help themselves. This means that you need to be able to strike up a rapport with patients and get them to trust you.
Before you can become a Physical Therapy Assistant there are certain requirements with which you need to comply, both personality-wise and academically:
- An Associate of Science (A.S.) in Physical Therapist Assistant is a 2-year associate degree.
- This physical therapy assistant degree can be obtained via attending a PTA Program at a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education accredited institution.
- PTA Programs are offered by colleges, community colleges and universities.
- Hands-on clinical experience.
- Licensure in the state in which you wish to practise, via taking the National Physical Therapy Examination which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
- Certain states also require you to write a state exam.
Skills And Abilities
- Physical strength is important as the job includes a lot of heavy lifting and moving of patients and equipment.
- Physical flexibility is important as you will need to do a lot of kneeling and bending.
- A compassionate nature and the ability to assist people without allowing their circumstances to affect you emotionally.
- Organisation and detail is very important in this type of job.
- The ability to take instruction from one or more physical therapists and being a team-player is of the essence.
- Strong communication skills are important as you will be dealing with patients and other professionals.
- Patience is a personality trait which is very important as you will often be dealing with patients who have suffered brain trauma and do not always respond well.
- Logical thinking and the ability to come up with innovative solutions to problems is a blessing in the physical therapy assistant career.
Physical Therapy Assistant Work Environment
A Physical Therapy Assistant provides services to people of all ages in various types of facilities. Most Physical Therapy Assistants are employed in home situations, where they are privately employed in order to assist the patient to get back to their previous health condition or as close to it as possible. There are also many other types of workplaces where PTAs are employed.
Some of the workplaces where a Physical Therapy Assistant is employed:
- Home Settings – Apart from actual domestic homes, a Physical Therapy Assistant also often works in a home-setting where the patient resides, such as a community hospital, home for the elderly, a nursing home, or some other type of communal-living scenario.
- Hospice – A hospice is essentially a place where one goes to die, but that does not mean that one is just left without nay type of treatment. A PTA can be of great assistance to those in hospices as they can help to make them comfortable and to breathe and also to boost muscle-mass so that the patient is at least comfortable in the last days.
- Hospitals – Anyone who has ever had major surgery or has been involved in a car accident or bad workplace accident which has resulted in head, back, neck or other injury knows that the physical therapy they received was a major part of their rehabilitation.
- Inpatient rehabilitation facilities – These are facilities where patients get treated for acute or sub-acute problems which normally call for extended therapy.
- Schools and Sports Centers – Sports injuries occur quite often and may require a PTA to assist in the alleviation of pain, exercise the person to help them to regain mobility, and fit them with and instruct them in the use of canes, prosthetics and the like.
- Developmental – Children that exhibit developmental problems, have mobility problems and toddlers who were born with birth defects all prosper under the hands of a good Physical Therapy Assistant.
- Education and Research Centers – Many PTAs with some experience will work in research centers where they come up with new and improved therapies or swap the clinic for a teaching position at a college or other PTA program.
Physical Therapy Assistant Work Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated that the outlook for Physical Therapy Assistants is very rosy at a predicted 35% growth-rate in the 2008-2018 decade. These predictions are based on the fact that the changes to restrictions on reimbursement have increased patient access to PTA services, people are living longer due to medical and technological advances, but this means that there are more elderly who require care for longer.
The fact that the baby-boomer generation has now reached the prime of life, which is just the time that heart-attacks, stroke and various other health problems are a big risk. This means that the need for the services of Physical Therapy Assistants to provide cardiac and physical rehabilitation is growing.
Medical and technological advances also mean that more trauma victims and newborns with birth defects are surviving and in need of physical therapy in order to ensure that they live full lives.
Physical Therapy Assistant Programs
One of the requirements to be able to practise as a physical therapy assistant is that you are licensed in the state in which you wish to work. This licensure is obtained by sitting for the National Physical Therapy Examination. This examination is specifically for Physical Therapy Assistants, and is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
How To Evaluate Physical Therapy Assistant Programs
Before making a decision as to which Physical Therapy Assistant Program to access for your studies, there are some important facts to consider:
- Accreditation – In order to be eligible to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination to get licensure you need to have studied at an accredited institution. Accreditation is conferred by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education of the American Physical Therapy Association.
- Program quality – Check that the program contains sufficient clinical training and that the culmination results in at least an associate’s degree.
- Success of graduates – Check with the program how many graduates the program has produced and how many of them have gone on to obtain licensure and gainful employment.
- Financial assistance – Find out if there are any scholarship or financial aid opportunities and whether the program facilitates access to them for students.
Physical Therapy Assistant Programs – Prerequisites
To be eligible for admission to a PTA Program, you need to have successfully completed certain prerequisites. Acceptance into a PTA Program is hotly contested as there are normally more applicants than there are spaces on the course.
- You need to have a high school diploma or your GED.
- You should have a minimum GPA of 2.5 in both science and non-science classes.
- Two years of high school-level Mathematics; Algebra and Geometry.
- Social sciences such as General Psychology, Growth and Development and Abnormal Psychology.
- English, Communication and Public Speaking or Interpersonal Communication.
- Physical Education or Health Education.
- Biology 160 or 241 is also very important.
- Doing volunteer work in a Physical Therapy work environment helps a lot towards your acceptance.
- Students will spend time at clinical sites and need to have reliable transport for this reason, especially when they will be required to spend some time at in the field and on campus on the same day.
- Students need to have health insurance cover during the periods that they are doing fieldwork in clinics. Some colleges provide access to this for students.
- Students must have malpractice/liability insurance – this can also usually be accessed through the college.
- Students must pass a mandatory drug test which they must pay for themselves.
- All healthcare workers must have current immunizations, TB tests and CPR training and students need to have these prior to entering a PTA Program.
- A Physical Therapy Assistant Program complies with the “Child/Adult Abuse Information Act,” RCW 43.43.830 through 43.43.840. and each student is thus required to take part in an investigation for criminal history information before entry into a PTA Program.
- Students are required to dress appropriately for professional settings.
The prerequisites for various PTA programs may differ somewhat, but the above is a good guideline. It is recommended that you contact various physical therapy assistant schools to find out what their prerequisites are.
Physical Therapy Assistant Programs – Course Content
A Physical Therapy Assistant Program takes 2 years, is a combination of academic work and hands-on clinical experienced and culminates in an associate degree. Whether you study online via computer-based assignments and video lectures, and have virtual classroom discussions or study on campus, the curriculum is basically the same.
The basic curriculum consists of:
- Patient Handling Techniques
- Physical Therapy Intervention Techniques I, II & III
- Gross Anatomy and Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System
- Orientation to Physical Therapy/Role of the Physical Therapist Assistant
- Kinesiology Integration
- Clinical Experience I, II & III
- Healthcare Delivery System
- Introductory Concepts in Paediatric Physical Therapy
- Advanced Geriatric Physical Therapy for the PTA
- Learning and Service through Immersion
- Specialized Clinical Experience
The modules will cover:
- Intro to Physical Therapy
- Therapeutic Exercise
Apart from the academic side of the studies you will also do some laboratory work and, as you can see, a lot of clinical work too (approximately 18 – 24 weeks), during which time you will get the chance to experience real-life situations in a clinical setting. The specialized clinical experience is not offered by all PTA Programs, but is a section which gives you a chance to expand your knowledge base and utilize your newly learned skills in a specialist field.
PTA Programs – Licensure
Once you have completed your degree you can immediately apply to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination in order to get licensure, without which you will not be able to work in most states. Some states may also require you to take a state exam in order to work in that state. Make sure that you check with your state as to whether they require you to take a state exam on top of the National exam in order to be licensed to work there.
PTA Reflections Program
The PTA Reflections Program is an arts recognition and achievement program for students. It was started in 1969 by National PTA board member Mary Lou Anderson, who describes it as “almost too simple.” The program has encouraged millions of American students to explore their artistic side. Students from preschool through grade 12 get the opportunity to create works of art for recognition and for fun. They are encouraged to submit works in six areas of the arts:
- Dance choreography
- Film production
- Musical composition
- Visual arts
Each year a different theme is chosen from suggestions made by the previous year’s students and they have has some wonderful themes over the years, such as “If I Could Give the World a Gift…,” “Exploring New Beginnings,” “Wow!” “I Can Make a Difference by…”, and many more. The 2011-2012 theme was “Diversity Means…”
Hundreds of thousands of students take part in the PTA Reflections Program annually, through their local PTAs. The program is structured in order for PTAs to recognize students at local, council, district, state and national levels.
The local winners move on to the district/regional and state levels, with the best of them going to National PTA to be considered for a National Reflections award.
The following awards are awarded by the PTA each year at national level:
- Awards of Excellence
- Awards of Merit
- Outstanding Interpretation Awards
- Honourable Mention
Any PTA/PTSA who is in good standing is eligible to sponsor a Reflections Program. The rules and deadlines differ from state to state, and you should contact your state PTA for further information.
The Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant Program
The National PTA Mary Lou Anderson Reflections Arts Enhancement Grant Program was created to complement PTA’s enduring commitment to quality arts education. The grant provides funding to local PTAs to institute or improve arts programs in one or more arts areas: photography, music (including dance), visual arts, and literature (including theatre).
A limited number of Local PTAs are awarded matching grants of up to $1,000 every year for student-centered programs which focus on arts education. National PTA anticipates funding 3 grants of up to $1,000 each.
National PTA places a priority on funding projects representing research-based best practices in arts education, specifically programs which are of a sustained nature and reach multitudes of at-risk students.
According to research, students get the most benefit from programs which include sustained involvement in the arts, which is why National PTA funds proposals for sustained programs which culminate in an arts fair, a performance, field trip, or an assembly.