Although you think you may eventually want to be a physical therapist, you’d like to start on the ground floor and work your way up. Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants are professional health care workers who provide physical therapy services to individuals who have been injured or have medical conditions such as arthritis. Physical therapy aides are unlicensed support personnel, but it's a good way to gain some experience.
Educaiton and Supervision
Although each state regulates the practice of physical therapy, those regulations do not include PT aides. National standards for education and practice do not exist. PT aides may be educated in a short course thorough a community college. The Montgomery County Community College notes their PT aide course takes 71 hours. Other PT aides may be trained on the job. In all cases, a PT aide must work under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As a PT aide, you’ll be a team player who can do a lot to help PTs. PT aides, according to the New York State Education Department, are limited to secretarial, clerical and housekeeping tasks. Although their primary focus is non-patient related, they may also assist a physical therapist by providing a second pair of hands for patient treatment. The PT aide often functions as a secretary, by assisting patients with insurance paperwork, answering the telephone, or scheduling appointments and referrals. PT aides may also perform insurance billing in some organizations.
Housekeeping may be one of the PT aide’s primary duties in some offices, so be prepared to don your rubber gloves and get out the duster. The aide would typically clean a treatment area after it has been used by the PT for a patient treatment, or clean equipment used in the treatment. Some PT aides may also set up equipment. Their tasks could also include ordering supplies, changing treatment table linens or other housekeeping duties. PT aides might also be responsible for keeping the office as a whole clean and organized.
Limited Patient Contact
The lack of nationwide standards means that PT aide duties may vary from one organization to another or from state to state. Although PT aides do not generally perform physical therapy, for example, ONET Online reports that PT aide duties in some organizations include therapeutic massage, ultrasound treatments or therapeutic exercises. In most organizations, however, a PT aide’s patient contact is more likely to include helping people move from wheelchairs to treatment tables, securing patients on to therapy equipment or transporting them from one area to another.
- American Physical Therapy Association: Licensure
- Montgomery County Community College: Physical Therapy Aide
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides
- New York State Education Department: Frequently Asked Practice Questions
- ONET Online: Summary Report for 31-2022.00 - Physical Therapist Aides
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.