If you enjoy medicine and health and think you would find satisfaction from working in a helping profession, than the field of physical therapy might be for you. Physical therapists require master’s degrees, and so interested candidates must attend school for approximately six years. On the other hand, physical therapist aides don’t require any formal schooling (beyond a high school education) and most training is done on the job. Of course, because of their lack of postsecondary education, PT aides don’t make as much money and often can’t work directly with patients. In the middle of those two options is the position of physical therapist assistant. People in this occupation must go to school for roughly two years in order to receive an associate’s degree. The result is that they make, on average, more than aides but less than physical therapists, and can perform duties that are somewhere between these two other professions. There are a number of measures you can take to ensure that your career as a physical therapy assistant is long and successful.
Go to an Accredited Institution
To ensure that you receive a quality education, you should aim to attend a college or university that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Institutions may also be accredited as a whole by other educational boards, such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. It is important to seek out schools that are accredited because that means their curricula and programs have been approved as a satisfactory instructional tool, adequately preparing students for their future careers in intended fields.
Take Advantage of Internships and Real-World Experience
Some colleges offer their students internships in physical therapy assisting that are built into the curriculum. Depending on where you go to school, you may be offered anywhere from two weeks to two months to partner with a physical therapy office or hospital and gain relevant experience. If possible, definitely capitalize on such opportunities. Not only will they give you experience outside of a classroom, but you might be able to use your temporary employer as a reference on future applications, or you might even be able to leverage your temporary stay into a permanent position. There are other ways to get hands-on experience as well. This often includes some kind of clinical practice or lab work during which you can practice using physical therapy equipment; learn techniques, sometimes using real patients with real injuries who have volunteered; and ask actual physical therapists questions about their methods. Such tools typically aim to equip students with the skills needed to work independently under the supervision of a PT.
Think Strategically about Your Employment Opportunities
It can be tempting to make decisions regarding your future employer based solely on preference. While it is important to enjoy your job, and most would not recommend working in a nursing home if you can’t stand working with the problems presented by elderly patients, there are other factors to consider. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, certain work environments will fare more favorably in the coming years within the industry than others. The agency’s report predicts that job opportunities will be particularly strong acute hospital, nursing, and orthopedic settings, as elderly people represent a sizeable portion of the physical therapy patient population. Another factor to consider is where (geographically) to accept employment. Unless your heart is set on a big city, you might want to consider moving to a rural area, where demand for PT assistants is great, but the supply is often small.