Physical therapy assistants help out physical therapists in the rehabilitation of patients. Their patients vary, from accident victims that need to recover from their injuries to heart attack and stroke patients, and those suffering from arthritis, joint pains, back pains, vertigo and cerebral palsy. These patients are assisted in therapies that will help them restore their ability to move their legs and arms or escape pain. There are different kinds of physical fitness programs for patients depending on which part of their body needs therapy.
To become a physical therapy assistant, there are two phases you need to go through: get formal education and training, then get certification so you can qualify for jobs as a physical therapy assistant with a good salary.
Formal education and training. You need to finish an associate’s degree to become a physical therapy assistant. It is a two-year program and is available in most states. There are at least 200 accredited programs in schools all over the country. These programs provide the students with basic knowledge in anatomy, psychology, therapeutic communications, medical terminologies, an introduction to physical therapy, occupational therapy, joint and tool mobility, and therapeutic assessment. There are several other subjects that cover first aid practices like CPR.
Aside from theory, students also undergo hands-on training on how to care for patients. It is a basic requirement for a student to be physically fit, because he will have to assist, and in some occasions carry, the patient from a wheelchair to exercise equipment. Therapies done on the bed also require a student to be able to raise the patient’s legs and massage the patient’s limbs.
For training, students are either placed in nursing homes or physical therapy centers. Even some fitness centers have physical therapists, so this can also be a good training ground. Most of the time, trainings are on a volunteer basis, with minimal compensation. The important thing is the student gains hands-on experience and is able to apply his knowledge on the job. He will be supervised by the resident physical therapist assistant and will be assessed by the administrator of the nursing home or physical therapy center.
When looking for a school to enroll in, make sure that it is certified by the appropriate certifying body in that state.
Certification. After finishing the two-year degree program, you will be given a certification by the school you enrolled in. There are also licensing requirements for physical therapy assistants, and it varies in every state. You should check with the state you intend to work in regarding these requirements. Usually, they require you to pass a state examination, and they also require a minimum number of hours spent in training. Also verify with the official association for physical therapists in your state which examinations should be taken.
While you are still a student, it is important to get to know practicing physical therapists and physical therapy assistants to find out where you can land a job in the near future. It is always good to establish your network of contacts way before your graduation.
It is possible for physical therapy assistants (PTA) to eventually pursue a course in physical therapy (PT) and practice that profession. There are available PTA to PT programs that can be finished in a few months.