Physical Therapist Assistant Duties, Responsibilities and Training

Physical therapist assistant staff are supervised in their activities by a licensed physical therapist. They help in the treatment of patients by administering a variety of prescribed therapies and procedures, recording the progress of individual patients and feeding back information to the PT. If a range of treatment options has been authorized, they may be allowed to make modifications to certain elements of the treatment plan according to the status of the patient.

What Does a PTA Do?

Physical Therapist Assistant Duties, Responsibilities and Training

PTAs duties fall into a range of different areas, and their training prepares them in a range of necessary skills and knowledge, helps them adapt to new situations, and work with others in a team. Some of the main areas of their work include:

  • administering prescribed treatment
  • measuring vital signs, patient progress and responses, and recording data
  • providing instruction and motivation to patients, helping them adapt to aspects of their treatment, manage support devices and prostheses, and carry out exercises
  • taking part in team based treatment plans, feeding back details of patient progress to the supervising physiotherapist, conferring with other members of staff, and evaluating treatment plans
  • managing a range of administrative and clerical duties, including supervision of equipment and supplies, maintaining a clean work area, answering the telephone, and other tasks as required

A physical therapist assistant needs to be skilled in techniques of basic health care and treatment of soft tissues. They need to be able to identify anatomical structures, know how to provide soft tissue manipulation, assist with stretching, give therapeutic massage, and apply techniques in areas such as chest therapy, such as postural drainage. They also need to understand how patients may need help with moving to and from treatment areas, managing a wheelchair, improving their walking skills, and other issues related to body mechanics.

Physical Therapist Assistant Training

Students wishing to get into this career normally need to study in an accredited program to Associate degree level. This normally takes about two years, and a course will comprise different modules spread over five or six semesters. An integral part of any training program is a range of three or more clinical experiences, which allow the student to implement parts of their theoretical training in supervised environment and observe licensed practitioners at work.

PTA programs usually have a range of pre-requisite courses which prepare students in general education coursework. These include:

  • physical/life sciences, such as anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, microbiology or physics
  • mathematics
  • fine arts/humanities, such as history, philosophy, biomedical ethics, or foreign language
  • social/behavioural sciences, such as general or developmental psychology, sociology, and anthropology
  • other courses/life skills classes, such as an introduction to computers

The principal course areas relating to the profession of physical therapy are likely to include:

  • pathophysiology — the study of disorders and diseases relating to the nervous, musculoskeletal, and cardiopulmonary systems
  • kinesiology — the study of movement in the human body, relating the topics of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics and areas such as the shoulder girdle and joint, the skeleton, the nervous, muscular, and articular systems
  • therapeutic modalities — the study of the use of heat and cold, light and sound, water, electricity and electromagnetic waves to treat injuries and diseases
  • therapeutic exercise — to help correct problems of posture and mobility, together with the use of a variety of devices to assist movement and function
  • holistic patient care — focusing on the treatment of the whole person as an integral part of therapy, including the psychological and emotional responses to conditions, social issues related to disability or disease, the problems faced by elderly patients, and other associated medical and ethical issues
  • documentation skills — including strategies for observing patients and recording data, formats for notetaking and methods of recording assessment, treatment, patient progress, discharge and other procedures

Personal Qualities Required of a PTA

Because by definition being a PTA involves working with people on a daily basis, a variety of personal skills and qualities are of paramount importance. It’s a job which places physical demands on staff, who need to be able to stand, stretch, bend, and lift effectively. They also need to have good communication skills, be able to express ideas clearly in both speech and writing for the benefit of co-workers as well as patients. They need to be sensitive and have empathy for the problems of others. Some of these qualities and skills can be addressed in the general education aspects of training. But some are also personal characteristics that will stand a PTA in good stead.

Being a physical therapist assistant can be a demanding job — but it also has the potential to be extremely satisfying, as individual workers devote themselves to relieving the distress and discomfort of the disabled, accident or trauma victims, and others who are in pain. It’s a popular profession that is predicted to enjoy significant growth of employment prospects as life expectancy increases and more and more people in all sorts of situations have need of therapeutic services.