Physical Therapy Assistant, Career, Schools and Jobs Guide
Physical therapy assistants currently play a vital role in America’s healthcare sector.
With the growing importance of providing for the patient’s long-term health and ability to resume normal activities, physical therapy has become a central part of many treatment plans, both during and after the patient’s hospital stay.
The Role of Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is a set of procedures that assists individuals in regaining the full use of their bodies after an accident or medical procedure. Depending on the nature of the injury, this therapy may be a short-term procedure, while in other cases the physical therapy may be a process that continues for the entire life of the patient. Examples of physical therapy procedures a therapy assistant may be involved in include the following:
- Physical therapy to help a patient regain his or her strength and coordination after a long period of inactivity. This is common for those patients who have been bedridden for a long period of time, and who consequently must rebuild their strength and coordination.
- Long-term physical therapy to assist a patient in maintaining his or her capabilities in the face of a degenerative disease. For example, many convalescent homes include physical therapy programs to assist the elderly.
- In the aftermath of a traumatic injury, physical therapy is often used to help train the victim to compensate for his or her current physical condition.
- Physical therapy is used to assist individuals who have suffered an amputation to learn how to best use the prosthetic replacement for their body part. This is becoming especially common due to the large number of combat related injuries that require amputation of the injured body part.
In all of these cases, physical therapy is an important component of the overall medical treatment plan. In addition to physical therapy that occurs in the hospital, many physical therapy assistants work in convalescent and rehabilitation centers, or as part of in-home care programs.
Physical Therapy Assistants
The physical therapy assistant (PTA) works to assist the physical therapist in carrying out his or her duties. The PTA must be professional and able to understand and independently follow detailed instructions. Additionally, PTAs must have excellent communication skills in order to work with the physical therapist, other medical professionals, and their patients.
Among the common duties physical therapy assistants carry out are the following:
- The physical assistant will observe the patient before, during and after the therapy session. The PTA will ensure that the physical therapist receives any needed information to help plan out an effective course of therapy.
- The PTA will help the patient during the therapy session. This usually will include showing the patient how to carry out the required exercises and physically assisting those patients who require it.
- The PTA will help the patient learn how to use the equipment that is needed to carry out his or her therapy. In addition, if the patient requires equipment for home use, the PTA will instruct him or her in how to effectively and safely use it.
- In many cases, the physical assistant will instruct the patient and any caregivers in how to continue the therapy once the patient has left the facility. This may include instructions in how to safely move about the home, as well as periodic visits to the home in order to evaluate the patient’s progress.
Working with the Elderly
Many PTAs work in convalescent homes serving the elderly. In many cases, this will mean dealing with individuals who are suffering from various forms of dementia. These PTAs must be capable of calmly dealing with individuals who may be noncompliant or simply incapable of understanding instructions. In some cases, this will require the PTA to effectively work with distraught or hostile individuals while maintaining a professional and caring attitude.
Becoming a Physical Therapy Assistant
A PTA is a profession that requires a state license or credential in order to practice. For most states, this requires completing an accredited PTA program, in addition to passing the national exam to demonstrate. Some states may have other requirements, such as passing a jurisprudence exam, and providing letters of recommendation.
The Physical Therapy Assistant Program
A physical therapy assistant program is usually a two-year program that confers an associate’s degree upon completion. These programs include a variety of classes and laboratory sessions. In addition, PTA programs usually have a clinical component, where the students work directly under healthcare professionals in functioning hospitals or clinics while obtaining hands-on physical therapy experience.
In some cases, a PTA program may include options for long or short-term internships in a hospital or other health care facility to insure that the student receives adequate experience in the field of physical therapy.
All states require that any recognized physical therapy assistant program be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). This ensures that the program adheres to high educational and professional standards. Any student should ensure that his or her program is in good standing with the CAPTE, as coursework that is completed at a non-accredited program is usually not accepted by state licensing boards.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
The Physical Therapist Assistant Examination
After completing his or her program, the student must then take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is a comprehensive exam designed to ensure that the student has the academic and physical skills needed to effectively serve his or her patients. The NPTE is a nationally recognized exam that is accepted by all states.
Furthermore, the NPTE is regularly updated to ensure that it remains current with the modern state of physical therapy. Should the student fail the NPTE, he or she may retake it, but many states will impose additional requirements on those students who are forced to retake the test. For this reason, students should only take the NPTE when they feel that they are fully prepared for it.
Career Options for Physical Therapist Assistants
PTAs have a wide range of potential career options. Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that there are over 110,000 PTA careers in the United States and that number is continually increasing. By 2020, the BLS has determined that the number of available jobs will have increased by at least 45 percent. Among the most common jobs are hospital PTA positions, in addition to working in convalescent homes and retirement communities to assist the patient in maintaining a high quality of life.
Other available fields include working as an in-home PTA, where the individual visits the patient in their home in order to ensure that they are effectively carrying out the exercises prescribed by a physical therapist. Other physical therapist assistants may work in health fitness centers, providing a professional assistance to individuals seeking to improve their physical capabilities. This can be especially important when working with individuals who are suffering from a handicap or recovering from an injury, as the PTA’s skills may be required to ensure that they do not injure themselves due to ineffective or harmful exercise techniques.
Finally, the PTA can currently earn a median annual salary of over $37,000. This compares very favorably with other fields that require the same amount of education and training. Furthermore, due to the growing need for physical therapy, a physical therapy assistant can expect to have a very secure career in both the long and short-term. Since PTA careers are available all over the United States, the PTA is unlikely to have to relocate to find a career. Conversely, those PTAs who do decide to move to another state should have little trouble finding a job.
The Physical Therapist Aide
It is important to note that a physical therapist aide is not the same as a physical therapist assistant. An aide is a position that requires no formal education, is not credentialed by the state and normally receives all of his or her training at the place of employment.
Furthermore, aides are severely restricted in the types of services they can offer the patient, and usually are not allowed to take part in any medical procedure. However, becoming an aide can be an excellent path to later becoming a physical therapy assistant, as it exposes the individual to the field without requiring an extensive investment in training.
Physical therapy assistants provide a vital service to America’s patients. Whether it is as part of a hospital setting, a retirement home, or as an in-home medical provider, the PTA helps ensure that individuals who have suffered a traumatic injury or a long-term degenerative disorder can continue to maintain their quality of life. No matter the specific field, the PTA is a highly trained medical professional who enjoys a great deal of respect from fellow professionals and the public alike.
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