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Physical Therapy Assistants and Aides

Employment opportunities for physical therapist, assistants and aides are numerous in today’s challenging job market. Medical and scientific research has created the need for many rehabilitation services. Our population is growing older at a rate that will require the support of many health care personnel. These are just a few of the reasons that make the choice to pursue a career as a physical therapy assistant or aide a good decision.

Assistants work directly under the supervision of a physical therapists. The majority of their work involves direct patient care. They work with patients to restore or improve mobility or assist patients with pain management issues. They may use techniques such as exercise, electrical stimulation, massage, hot and cold therapy, ultrasound or traction to achieve these results. Orthopedic procedures such as hip and knee replacements are becoming increasingly more common. Assistants will often provide rehabilitation services to these clients. Individuals involved in trauma-related accidents also require the services of physical therapy for recovery. Therapist sometimes rely on assistants to offer teaching related to exercises that can be performed at home or to deliver instructions on how to use crutches or rolling walkers. Physical therapist assistants are typically required to document and report patient responses to treatments and patient progress.

Most states in the United States require a assistant to hold an associate degree. In addition, some states require licensure. The American Physical Therapy Association reports that in 2009 there are currently 224 institutions supporting 237 accredited physical therapy assistant programs. There are also an additional 44 programs in development for this educational program. Completion of a state or national examination may be required for licensing as a physical therapy assistant as well.

Compensation and Duties

The average annual salary for assistant and aides according to Indeed.com is $65,000. The U.S. Department of Labor indicates that the median annual earnings of physical therapist assistants were $41,350 in 2006. Payscale.com reports, however, that the starting annual median salary for a physical therapist is $38,118. Many factors such as geography, company size, and type of employer can effect wage indicators.

Aides work under the supervision of a physical therapist or an assistant. Their job duties are varied. They essentially are responsible for ensuring that therapy sessions run smoothly. They may transfer patients to and from therapy sessions. They maintain the therapy area with supplies and keep things clean and organized. Aides may also perform clerical duties such as scheduling appointments, ordering supplies, and filling out insurance forms. They may assist patients with dressing or undressing. An aide may weigh patients. Aides are not licensed so they do not provide any type of physical therapy with patients.

Educational requirements for an aide are a high school diploma or GED. Many facilities provide on the job-training for this position. Previous experience as a certified nursing assistant or home health aide could be beneficial when searching for this type of job.

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