Physical therapy assistants are the nursing level occupation in the physical therapy field. In the same way that medical doctors in other specialties require the assistance of nursing staff, doctors of physical therapy have physical therapy assistants who help provide the comprehensive medical care that patients need when visiting a physical therapy private practice, clinic or hospital department.
Physical Therapy Assistant Job Duties
Physical therapy assistants help provide the treatment that is necessary to improve patient mobility issues, relieve or reduce pain, and to alleviate or lessen the effects of chronic illness or physical disabilities. Physical therapy assistants are often the individuals who help patients learn to use mobility assistance tools like crutches, walkers, leg braces, and other aides.
Physical therapy assistants also help patients learn to adjust the way that they do things in order to prevent re-injuring themselves, improve healing time, and deal with new physical limitations which present themselves with certain kinds of chronic conditions. For instance, a physical therapy assistant may help people with lower-back pain learn how to properly lift, carry or move items without putting undue stress on their lower backs.
Assistants in a physical therapy practice will also work with patients on rehabilitative exercise routines. If a patient has experienced an injury, a physical therapy assistant will help the individual learn exercises which will rebuild muscle strength or help restore full range of movement.
For those patients who have a chronic condition or a degenerative disease, a physical therapy assistant can help them maintain their lifestyle longer and continue to be self-sufficient as long as possible. Physical therapy assistants can also help patients learn new ways to complete everyday tasks that might otherwise aggravate their condition.
Physical therapy assistants perform all their job duties under the supervision of a licensed Physical Therapist. They may utilize therapeutic electrical stimulation, ultrasound machines, and mechanical traction equipment to perform therapy sessions with patients. They may also use massage techniques as well as simple equipment with patients, including balance balls, elastic bands and other tools that patients can use easily at home as well as within their physical therapy appointments.
Assistants are also expected to maintain patient records and record progress. They complete paperwork and ensure that electronic records are kept up to date. In some physical therapy practices, assistants make reminder phone calls and follow-up calls to patients. They may also work the reception desk and order supplies. In other offices, there are non-licensed physical therapy aides who perform these clerical job duties. Whether these responsibilities fall to an assistant or an aide depends on the office.
Work Environment of a Physical Therapy Assistant
A physical therapy assistant may work in a private physical therapy practice or a hospital physical therapy department. They can also work in occupational health or other public clinics.
The field of physical therapy is a taxing one in terms of physical exertion on the part of a physical therapy assistant. Individuals who work in the field will need to have the strength to support, lift or help patients move from place to place within the office. Physical therapy assistants also spend a great deal of their work day on their feet and will be expected to kneel and bend often. For this reason, a physical therapy assistant must be in relatively good physical condition in order to meet the minimum requirements for performing their job.
Many people working as a physical therapy assistant work full time, putting in forty or more hours per week on the job. There are also a large number of part time positions available in the field of physical therapy. Work hours may vary dependent upon the office in which a physical therapy assistant works, with many hospitals, clinics and even private practices having flexible schedules in order to make office visits more convenient for patients.
Education and Training for Physical Therapy Assistant Jobs
Most states require a minimum of an Associate Degree for a physical therapy assistant to be licensed, and even within those states that do not, a physical therapy assistant must still be registered and licensed before permitted to work in the field.
Those who wish to work as a physical therapy assistant should make sure that any Associate Degree program they select is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. This regulatory agency of the American Physical Therapy Association is the only accrediting agency for physical therapy schools in the United States.
There are more than two hundred accredited physical therapy assistant programs across the nation. Typically, these programs are two years in length and result in an Associate Degree. The course of study in an associate of physical therapy program is a combination of traditional classroom work and clinical, hands on experience in the field of physical therapy.
Registration and Licensure for the Physical Therapy Assistant
Completing an accredited physical therapy assistant program is required in most states. Many also require a state examination to be passed before registration is allowed in the state. Licensing and registration requirements vary from state to state and a physical therapy assistant must comply with the appropriate requirements in their home state in order to qualify for employment in the field.