Physical therapy has become a growing part of America’s healthcare sector.
The importance of physical therapy, not simply in helping individuals to recover from specific accidents or illnesses, but to ensure their overall wellness, has resulted in a vast expansion in the job market for physical therapists and physical therapy assistants (PTAs).
Because of this, this field is currently an extremely promising one for individuals who wish to enter the healthcare profession as PTAs.
Becoming a PTA
Currently, all states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico demand that any practicing PTA be licensed by the appropriate authorities.
Although licensure requirements differ from state to state, the most common requirements are as follows:
- Complete a PTA program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Alternately, some states have their own approval process in place for PTA programs.
- Take and successfully pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).
- Some states also require that individuals seeking PTA licensure take and pass specific state jurisprudence examinations in order to demonstrate their familiarity with the law as it applies to licensed PTAs.
In addition to their regular course of instruction, many PTA programs offer internships for those students that meet the qualifications. An internship allows the student to obtain practical experience in a working physical therapy setting, while still receiving guidance and instruction from his or her instructors and the medical professionals overseeing the internship.
An internship generally takes place during the period of instruction. In some cases, a student may enter an internship during the summer break or other periods, depending on the arrangement between the school and the organization providing the internship.
In addition, the internship may have an associated class that the student must attend while he or she is working as an intern.
Qualifying for an Internship
Most schools do not have access to internship programs for all of their enrolled students. Because of this, the student should make certain that he or she meets the requirements to be considered for an internship. In general, the following can be helpful when attempting to gain entry into an internship program:
- A high grade point average.
- Earlier volunteer experience in the field of physical therapy.
- Letters of recommendation from qualified faculty members or medical professionals.
Finally, the student should verify that he or she can attend the internship program at all times. This is especially important for students who are currently working, as they may have to adjust their work schedules in order to take advantage of the internship program.
Types of Internship Programs
While there are a wide range of internship programs, they can generally be broken down into paid and unpaid internships. In most cases, paid internships are provided by businesses or for profit organizations, while many non-profit and educational institutions usually offer unpaid internships.
Paid internships allow the student to partially or totally defray his or her costs while attending the internship. This can be especially important for students who are living on their own.
In addition, paid internships can allow working students to take a leave of absence from their current job in order to dedicate their full attention to the internship.
Unpaid internships do not provide a stipend to the interns. However, some schools do have grants or loans available to qualified students who are currently taking part in an internship program.
In addition, many unpaid internship programs have flexible schedules, which can allow the intern to continue to work at another job while taking part in the internship.
The Benefits of Internship Programs
Internships have a wide range of benefits for those participating in them. They provide the student with practical experience, personal and professional contacts and in many cases can open employment opportunities for the student after his or her graduation.
Practical Experience from Internships
Internships provide a wide range of practical experience for those participating in them. Unlike classroom training, the intern is working in a functioning medical facility, providing treatment to real patients. This allows the intern to observe how other medical professionals handle issues as they arise, in addition to seeing the difference between classroom training and on the job issues.
Personal and Professional Networking
In addition to the direct experience internships provide, they can allow the student to create personal and professional connections that will be very important as he or she enters the job market. In addition to the potential to obtain favorable letters of recommendation, the intern may be able to make long-term professional connections that can help him or her adjust to changes in the job market.
Improved Employment Options
Finally, in many cases a successful internship may directly lead to post graduation employment. Some organizations see an internship as a method to evaluate potential employees under actual working conditions. Because of this, an intern who makes a good impression may actually have a job waiting for him or her upon graduation from the PTA program.
Furthermore, the intern benefits from knowing the corporate culture of his or her new employer, avoiding the sometimes-difficult process of developing experience in conforming to the employer’s policies. In some cases, the former intern may be able to start at a higher salary than a PTA who is newly hired or may be allowed to forgo a probationary period in his or her employment.
The Limitations of PTA Internships
PTA internships may be limited in what they can provide, depending on the state where the internship is offered. Because most students have not yet obtained their PTA license, the state may place strict limits on the services they can offer.
In other cases, students who are close to graduation may be able to obtain a temporary license, so long as they are working under the supervision of licensed medical personnel.
It is important that the intern fully understand what services he or she is allowed to provide, as violating these regulations can result in disciplinary action against both the intern and the establishment providing the internship.
Ultimately, becoming a paid or unpaid intern can provide valuable experience and confidence to the intern. When combined with the potential for obtaining a post-graduation job, all individuals in a PTA program should do their best to seek out and join a PTA internship program.