In today’s healthcare sector, physical therapy has become a central part of many recovery plans.
Whether helping the elderly remain mobile and independent or assisting individuals to recover from traumatic injuries, physical therapists, assistants and aides are a vital part of any healthcare team.
What is Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is the practice of assisting individuals to regain the full function of their bodies via various types of exercise.
In fact, nearly every long-term hospital stay will result in the patient requiring some level of physical therapy, and most traumatic injuries such as auto wrecks, may require therapy to assist the individual to fully recover.
Finally, a large number of veterans have suffered combat injuries that make extensive physical therapy necessary to their ultimate recovery.
Physical Therapy and Amputees
An especially important physical therapy specialty is to assist individuals who have lost one or more limbs.
In many cases, this will involve training them how to put the prosthetic on and how it differs from a natural limb.
The rapid improvement in prosthetics technology has made this an increasingly common specialty for physical therapy professionals.
Physical Therapist Assistants and Physical Therapy Aides
Physical therapist assistants and physical therapy aides both work to assist the patient during physical therapy, but they have radically different responsibilities.
In general, the physical therapist assistant is a field that requires more education, and in most states must be licensed or credentialed.
Physical therapy aides are usually trained after becoming employed, do not require certification or credentialing and can seek employment directly after graduating from high school.
However, aides are strictly limited in what services they can offer and usually are required to work under the direct supervision of an assistant or physician.
Educational and Licensing Requirements for Physical Therapist Assistants
Most states require that physical therapist assistants be licensed or credentialed in order to practice.
In general, the requirements to become licensed include obtaining an associate’s degree in physical therapy, passing the national physical therapist’s exam and in some cases, completing a state jurisprudence exam.
The Associate’s Degree
The candidate must successfully obtain an associate’s degree in physical therapy. Most of these programs are offered by vocational schools or community colleges and require approximately two years to complete. Physical therapy programs include academic and clinical classes, as well as hands-on experience in a hospital setting.
However, most states require that schools offering these degrees be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). It is important for the student to ensure that his or her program is currently in good standing with the CAPTE, as non-accredited coursework is generally not accepted.
Taking the National Physical Therapy Examination
The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) is a standardized test that is offered to all individuals wishing to become a licensed physical therapist assistant.
The NPTE is a comprehensive examination that tests all aspects of the candidate’s academic and practical knowledge. While it is possible to retake the test, many states may impose further requirements on individuals who have failed the exam one or more times.
Depending on the state, there may be other requirements to obtain a license. Many states require applicants to successfully complete a jurisprudence exam to demonstrate their knowledge of the legal duties and rights of physical therapist assistants.
Other states may require letters of reference from instructors or supervisors. Finally, some states may allow for licensure by endorsement for those physical therapist assistants who are licensed in another state.
Physical Therapy Aide Training
Physical therapy aides require little in the way of formal education to carry out their duties and most physical therapy aides are trained at their place of employment.
In general, a physical therapy aide must be 18 or older, and have graduated from a high school or equivalent. No state requires licensure of physical therapy aides and as such they can practice anywhere in the United States.
The Duties of Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides
Physical therapist assistants have a wide range of duties in the healthcare sector. They help patients carry out their physical therapy, record their progress for later examination by the physical therapist, and discuss any concerns the patient might have.
In addition, they often are in charge of instructing family members and other caregivers on how to effectively carry out at-home physical therapy.
This often includes instructions in how to safely assist the patient around the house, as well as how to use any therapy equipment that the patient will need.
Physical therapy aides are not allowed to work with the patient save under the direct supervision of their superiors.
In general, most of the physical therapy aide’s duties involve ensuring that all facilities are prepared for the physical therapist and other professionals. Aides clean and prepare equipment, ensure that the therapy rooms are cleaned after use and also assist patients to or from the therapy room.
In addition, many physical therapy aides serve as clerical help, answering phones and helping patients and fellow professionals with various forms of paperwork. Because of their access to confidential patient information, physical therapy aides must be very careful to ensure that no privacy breaches occur.
Professional and Salary Prospects
Both physical therapy aides and therapist assistants are currently facing a growing demand for their services.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that these professions will see a 45 percent growth by 2020, which is well above average when compared to other professions.
Furthermore, the median annual wage for a physical therapist assistant is nearly $50,000 dollars, and the median wage for a physical therapy aide is over $23,000 dollars. In both cases, the salary compares very favorably with other fields that require a similar amount of education.
Physical therapy is an excellent career for individuals interested in the healthcare field. With growing career and salary opportunities, physical therapy professionals will continue to enjoy their participation in a secure and personally rewarding field.
Whether for individuals seeking their first job, or for currently employed professionals seeking a more rewarding field, physical therapy is an excellent choice.
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