Physical therapy assistants are an important part of any physical therapist's practice; they perform many duties and support the physical therapist in treating patients and keeping the office running smoothly. They perform a variety of tasks and it is important for them to be properly trained to be able to work with clients with a wide array of injuries. Read on for a description of a physical therapy assistant's job requirements, including an overview of the work environment, how long it takes to become one and employment outlook in the field.
Physical therapy assistants provide support for physical therapists by providing certain treatments for patients and performing various other office duties as the physical therapist requires. Physical therapy aides are not licensed to perform clinical tasks and are always under the direct supervision of the physical therapist. They are required to obtain special training and need to possess certain qualities and characteristics, such as upper body strength and good communication skills. Basically, the physical therapist relies on her assistant to work closely with the patients, keeping them safe and comfortable and providing whichever services the physical therapist deems appropriate.
The following is a list of the possible duties of a physical therapy assistant:
-Teaching and assisting with exercises or stretching
-Operating electrical stimulation equipment
-Giving paraffin baths
-Applying hot and cold packs
-Assisting patients with traction
-Documenting progress/taking patient notes
Physical therapy assistants may also assist patients in moving around the office or may teach them the proper way to use crutches or how to set up their office to be ergonomically correct. Depending on whether the physical therapist office has a separate receptionist or aide, the physical therapy assistant may also help by answering phones and doing administrative or clerical work.
A moderate amount of upper body strength and frequent standing, kneeling and possibly lifting is involved in this career. There also may be odd working hours. A physical therapy assistant's schedule varies depending on the facility where she is employed; however, many work evenings and weekends to accommodate patients' schedules. The setting in which a physical therapy assistant works is not limited to private practice or a hospital. Many nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, schools, hospices, fitness centers and skilled nursing facilities often employ physical therapists on-site, and therefore would require a physical therapy assistant. Some physical therapists even travel to people's homes to provide therapy.
The amount of time it takes to become a physical therapy assistant is approximately two years (after obtaining a high school diploma). To work as a physical therapy assistant, one must graduate from an accredited two-year associate program in physical therapy assisting at a technical or community college or university. These programs are divided into two parts: academic study and clinical experience. The amount of clinical hours required varies from one program to another, but typically it is approximately one semester. Upon graduation, students must then take a national examination for certification and licensing in most states to be able to enter the field.
Job growth is expected to be good for physical therapy assistant jobs due to an increasing need for physical therapy services. The combination of the aging population and more patients desiring outpatient care for injuries makes for favorable job prospects in the field.