How to Become a Physical Therapist Aide
Physical therapist aides employ a unique combination of skills—physical strength and the sensitivity to offer physical assistance compassionately. Physical therapist aides are the ones at the ready to assist patients in and out of the therapy area of a clinic, offering aid when needed without impinging on a client's sense of independence and mobility. They help support or lift clients who have physical disabilities or injuries that prevent them from moving freely, set up equipment, monitor client progress and help with clerical tasks.
Physical therapy involves exercises for strength and range of motion, therapeutic interventions to improve daily functioning, and training in the use of assistive devices and mobility aids. A certified physical therapist (PT) typically employs one or two physical therapy aides to assist with physically demanding routines as well as to help keep the office running smoothly. Physical therapy aides also work with certified physical therapy assistants. Many patients, after major surgery or being treated for injuries from an accident, are unable to return to normal life without help from these professionals. The physical therapist aide is a satisfying hands-on position working directly with patients to ensure they get the most from their physical therapy.
Nearly 25% of all physical therapy aides work in hospitals. Assisted living facilities such as nursing homes employ another 9%. The rest work in health care service facilities such as private physical therapy clinics or doctors’ offices. The PT aide position is a physically active one that requires moving patients and equipment in preparation for physical therapy procedures. Most aides work a full-time schedule, although part-time positions also exist.
Although there are no college degree requirements for this career, a high school diploma is typically needed to become a physical therapy aide. Most PT offices or clinics offer on-the-job training, but taking courses in physical therapy or physical fitness provides an edge to job seekers in this field. Successful completion of a physical therapy aide program will yield a certificate of completion that increases marketability. Volunteering to work with the disabled in a hospital or clinic is another way to add to your skill set and enhance your resume. Volunteering is also a great way to make sure the nature of the work matches your interests and abilities.
Physical therapy aides generally receive on-the-job training that lasts anywhere from three months to a year. Working with experienced employees, the new employee will learn how to:
- Keep therapy areas clean and well-organized
- Set up, take down and use each piece of equipment
- Access patient information
- Assist patients in and out of therapy areas
- Perform the necessary clerical tasks and record-keeping
Licensing and/or Certification
No licensure or certification is necessary to become a physical therapy aide.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
PT aides assist clients during their physical therapy exercises and treatments under the supervision of a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant. That means that a physical therapy aide should be physically fit, with the ability to kneel, bend and lift. Good social and communication skills are also a plus, since PT aides interact with clients and the other staff in the office. Other characteristics of an effective physical therapy aide include good organization skills and the ability to carry out administrative tasks in the office.
Opportunities for Advancement
Physical therapy aides are entry-level positions that do not typically offer a path to advancement. Those PT aides who wish to advance in a PT career will go on to get the education, training and certification necessary to become a physical therapy assistant or a licensed physical therapist.
According to 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapist aide wages ranged from $17,270 to $34,670, with a median annual salary of $23,680. Physical therapy aides working in nursing homes and hospitals earned more than aides working in doctors’ or health practitioners’ offices.
Physical therapy is a healthcare field that continues to show growth. The number of physical therapy jobs is expected to increase as the US population continues to age. Predictions for PT aide jobs are to increase by 43% from 2010 - 2020. While the number of positions continues to grow, it is a competitive environment for job seekers. As the Baby Boomers reach retirement age, it is expected that the strongest job growth will occur in institutions that treat the elderly, such as hospitals, nursing homes and other assisted living facilities. Rural areas are predicted to have more job openings than urban areas.