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How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

Aparna Iyer
A physical therapist assistant provides relief to people plagued by infirmities, in accordance with the advice and under the supervision of a physical therapist. Here is some information on how to become one.
The job of a physical therapist is to devise treatment strategies and chalk out treatment plans that are expected to yield positive results. A physical therapist assistant (PTA) aids a physical therapist who alleviates symptoms of distress and discomfort in patients suffering from painful ailments.

Job Description

An assistant may provide relief by undertaking activities that can significantly improve the quality of life in case of people dealing with debilitating conditions like arthritis, heart disease, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.
The discomfort that may be due to advancing age, accidents, or congenital defects can be alleviated by giving massages, providing traction, electrical stimulation, paraffin baths, and hot and cold packs.
Familiarizing patients with the use of exercise equipment and aids like crutches and encouraging them to adhere to an exercise regime that will ensure speedy recovery are a part of the physical therapist assistant's job.

Difference between Physical Therapist Assistant and Physical Therapist Aide

The responsibilities of a physical therapist assistant and a physical therapist aide are quite different. A physical therapist assistant carries out the bidding of the physical therapist and executes the plan in accordance with his/her wishes.
A physical therapist aide does not directly participate in the therapy sessions but is responsible for helping the patient ply between the infirmary and the exercise center, maintain the orderliness and appearance of the clinic, and handle insurance and clerical responsibilities.
A high school diploma or a GED will suffice if one wants to become a physical therapist aid while an associate degree from an accredited institute is a must.

Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant

In order to become an accredited physical therapist assistant, one would be required to obtain an associate degree by enrolling in a program recognized by the American Physical Therapy Association.
A high school diploma is a prerequisite for enrolling in one of the accredited assistant programs. The duration of the program is generally 2 years and the payoff is an associate degree that would definitely advance the career prospects of the aspirant.
Licensing requirements for PTA vary from state to state. The academic program maintains a fine balance between academic study and hands-on clinical experience. The assistant is expected to be comfortable with human anatomy and physiology. The basic knowledge of algebra, biology, chemistry, and an understanding of human psychology is also desirable.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), first aid, and training provided at hospitals and health care centers are a part of the clinical course work. Actual practical training is indispensable for an aspiring physical therapist assistant, since focusing on course work alone does not guarantee competence.

Career Opportunities

Physical therapist assistants generally advance by specializing in a particular area of work. For instance, they can become experts in the field of geriatric care and share their experience and knowledge by becoming instructors. In due course of time, they may end up becoming directors of departments conducting research and further studies in their area of expertise.
A physical therapist assistant needs to be patient and should be willing to go the extra mile to cheer patients who have been discombobulated by the shackles of pain. A sunny disposition and the willingness to help is a definite asset for a person interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy.