The field of physical therapy is an increasingly important part of America’s health care sector.
Especially with the growing number of elderly individuals requiring physical therapy, in addition to the increased importance of sports medicine, this field is providing robust and growing employment opportunities for physical therapist assistants.
However, there are a wide variety of available physical therapist assistant jobs and specialties, and it is important that anyone intending to become a physical therapist assistant consider what field they are most interested in.
Physical therapist assistant jobs range from hospital based rehabilitation to in-home physical therapy for seniors and homebound individuals.
Duties and Responsibilities of Physical Therapist Assistants
All physical therapist assistants have the same basic responsibilities. They work with the supervising physical therapist and physician to help set up and implement a program of physical therapy for their patients.
In most cases, every patient’s physical therapy program is individualized, requiring that the physical therapist assistant be able to handle a number of different procedures at the same time.
- Effectively understand and carry out the program of physical therapy ordered by the physical therapist.
- Instruct and assist the patient in carrying out his or her physical therapy in a safe and effective manner.
- Observe the progress the patient is making and report any difficulties to his or her physician.
- Instruct other caregivers, including family members, in how to best assist the patient during physical therapy sessions.
- Instruct the patient in how to safely use any equipment used during physical therapy sessions.
Physical Therapy Careers
There are a wide range of careers that physical therapy assistants can enter. Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about 55 percent of physical therapist assistants work in providing ambulatory health care services to patients.
Of the rest, 28 percent work in various types of hospital settings, and 12 percent work in residential care and nursing facilities.
Physical Therapist Assistants and Ambulatory Care
In most cases, ambulatory care refers to patients who are not hospitalized and are treated on an outpatient basis.
Ambulatory care can also include in-home visitations as well as seeing the patient at a clinic or physical therapist’s office. Because of the non-emergency nature of these sessions, most physical therapy assistants working in ambulatory care enjoy a regular work schedule.
Ambulatory care can include the following types of physical therapy that the physical therapist assistant will help provide:
- Long-term physical therapy to recover from serious injuries such as fractures or neurological damage.
- Physical therapy to counteract the symptoms from degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
- Eldercare often involves physical therapy sessions in order to help maintain the individual’s physical and mental independence.
- Individuals who have suffered the amputation of a limb often make use of outpatient therapy to learn how to effectively make use of their prosthetics.
- The rise in sports-related injuries is creating an increasing demand for physical therapist assistants in the field of sports medicine.
Depending on the practice, a physical therapy assistant may have a job that specializes in a single area, or may have a broader range of responsibilities.
Larger clinics often see more specialized physical therapy assistants, while therapy assistants working with smaller practices will usually handle a variety of patients.
Hospital Based Physical Therapy
Hospital based physical therapy is focused on patients who are currently under full-time care at a hospital. In most cases, this care will focus on assisting the patient to recover from injury, illness or a surgical procedure. Physical therapist assistants working at a hospital will often have unscheduled overtime and may be required to perform other duties, at the direction of the medical staff.
One important type of care these individuals provide is to assist patients who have been bedridden to regain their muscle tone and physical capabilities. This requires a carefully planned and conducted campaign of physical therapy, as long-term inactivity can result in severe strength loss and the physical therapist assistant must be careful to avoid causing injury during therapy sessions.
Residential and Nursing Care Facilities
Residential and nursing care facilities usually have a number of individuals who are elderly and are suffering from long-term degenerative conditions. In most cases, physical therapy for these individuals is designed to improve their quality of life, rather than attempting to rectify any specific health condition.
Physical therapy assistants working in nursing care facilities must have a very professional and patient manner. In many cases, they will be working with patients who are suffering from various types of senile dementia. This will require the physical therapy assistant to remain calm in the face of individuals who are often hostile, frightened or confused as to where they are.
Physical therapy assistants can find a wide variety of professionally and personally rewarding careers in the American healthcare sector. Whether the assistant is working as part of a hospital healthcare team, or is providing physical therapy at a nursing care facility, he or she will continue to enjoy excellent professional advancement options.