In 2005, while I was attending a university, I fell in a bike accident and broke my wrist. I underwent surgery to correct the break and my wrist was put in a cast. I had to learn how to function without my left hand. Even though I was right handed, I had no idea how important that other hand was until I could not use it anymore. When the cast came off, I was referred to a physical therapist. I feared that I'd never gain function back in my atrophied wrist. After a few months of therapy, my wrist was back to normal.
The only evidence of the accident is a scar from the surgery and some occasional tightness in the wrist. I was so pleased with the result, and so grateful for what the physical therapist and his assistant had done for me, that I decided to research the profession. I left the university and am now in school to become a physical therapist assistant.
Choosing a career as a physical therapist assistant requires a desire to help people, a two year college commitment, and a willingness or aptitude to delve into scientific subject matter. Here are some essential steps to following your desire to become a physical therapist assistant.
Step 1 – Research the profession. The American Physical Therapy Association website, apta.org, is your first source for information on the profession of physical therapy. Use it to choose a school, read about what physical therapy is, and browse information on career options.
Step 2 – Know the differences between the physical therapist, physical therapist assistant, and physical therapist aid.
The physical therapist evaluates the patient and creates a treatment plan. More complex therapies are done by the physical therapist. A masters or doctorate of physical therapy is required.
The physical therapist assistant carries out the treatment plan. A large majority of the therapy is carried out by the assistant, especially routine therapies. The assistant is a patient's cheerleader and reports on patient progress. An associate degree in an accredited program is required.
The physical therapist aid does not participate in most of the therapy. The aid is responsible for the appearance and organization of the clinic and may handle insurance and clerical responsibilities. The aid may assist patients by following unsteady individuals with a wheelchair while they walk. A high school diploma or GED is required. Training is done on the job. Most jobs are volunteer and unpaid.
Step 3 – Choose a school. The APTA website lists schools by state for both PTs and PTAs.
Step 4 – Find out what the requirements for the program are and apply. Most PTA programs require a student to visit 1-2 physical therapy sites, usually one inpatient and one outpatient site. The visits are discussed during the admissions interview with the school's PTA program director.
Step 5 – Start taking science classes and other general education credits as soon as possible. Most PTA programs require 1 or 2 English classes, math, 1 or 2 psychology classes, and several science classes. The better you do in science classes, the more likely you will be selected to begin the program.
Step 6 – Competition for admission into PTA programs is generally not fierce, but good grades and an aptitude for science or willingness to learn science are essential. As the profession grows in popularity, competition might grow. Typically, students who do well in science and other general education subjects will not have a hard time getting admitted. If you do not have strong high school grades, consider taking necessary science and general education courses during your first year of college. Most PTA program managers will accept you if you prove you have the drive and ability to do well in school.
Step 7 – If you can, do more than 2 visits to PT clinics. Volunteer as a physical therapist aid. Most hospitals need aids to assist in both inpatient and outpatient clinics. You will gain great experience, increase your understanding of the profession, and make contacts with potential employers. Your supervisor can provide you with a glowing recommendation in your search for employment after school if you show you are dedicated and have a talent for working with people and listening to directions.
Step 8 – Commit to finish the degree. You will have days where you will want to give up. Physical therapy school is voluntary and requires a large commitment of time and energy. Remember that the future rewards of a satisfying career will be the fruits of your hard work.