Physical therapists help people who have sustained injuries or have chronic conditions that affect their mobility and functioning. The goal for injured people is to restore full mobility and reduce pain in the process. For people who have more chronic conditions, treatment is often focused on maximizing functioning and managing pain as best as possible. PT assistants work under the direction of physical therapists. They might observe patients before or during therapy or during a diagnostic procedure and give the PT their notes. They work with patients hands-on to assist them in completing their exercises and answer their questions. PT assistants might also be involved in administrative tasks, such as cleaning, maintaining order, answering phones, or doing insurance paperwork. If you are thinking of becoming a physical therapy assistant, you will need to go to physical therapy assistant school and acquire an associate’s degree. If you want to succeed after you get out of school, there are a number of skills you will need to have.
Compassion and a Desire to Help
Patients who come to physical therapy or doctor’s offices are often in a lot of pain, especially at the beginning of treatment. They might progress slowly or have frequent setbacks. In order to be a good assistant, you should have a desire to help people and an ability to empathize with their position. If you push people too hard or are not understanding of their pain they will likely not want to work with you. Especially when it comes to people who have chronic conditions, you should be patient and compassionate because you will likely be working with them on a long-term basis. In these cases, the goal is not always to get them “fixed” but to develop a good working relationship based on small victories.
On a related note, it is vital that you have well-developed interpersonal skills. This is especially important in any helping profession where you work with people one-on-one. You should be able to read people and go out of your way to make them comfortable. For example, if someone with a new and serious injury appears worried about recovery, you should make sure to comfort them and ease their anxiety. If you work with a patient who is very talkative and is put at ease with regular conversation, you should be able to carry on a dialogue with them and even tell jokes.
Dexterity and Comfort with Hands-on Interaction
Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants spend a good part of their day working with their hands. This ranges from time spent adjusting exercise machines and using diagnostic tools to time when you have your hands on the patient, perhaps massaging a muscle or feeling for certain points on their spine. You shouldn’t shy away from direct contact with patients. If you aren’t the type of person who likes any close contact with other people than it might not be the best job for you.
Physical Stamina and an Enjoyment of Physical Activity
Despite the fact that you’ll be working in an office, PT assistants have active jobs. Unless you’re sitting at a desk while answering phones and dealing with insurance claims, you’ll most likely be moving around the office as you deal with many different patients. You’ll also spend time demonstrating physical exercises to patients, so you should have flexibility and a tolerance of exercise. The weight you will have to demonstrate most likely won’t be very healthy, since for most patients they are working on rehabilitation, but you might still get tired if you are demonstrating exercises all day long. Plus, if you have a healthy attitude toward exercise than you can try to impress that upon your patients who would benefit from regular physical activity.