How to Become a Physical Therapy Technician
Physical therapy technicians (PTTs) provide invaluable services to patients experiencing physical discomfort. Working under the supervision of licensed physical therapists, technicians use massage, heat treatment, exercise and other non-invasive means to treat disease, injury and deformity.
PTTs use their knowledge of anatomy and physiology—especially the musculoskeletal and nervous systems—to carry out treatment plans prescribed by physicians. Therapeutic methods employed range from hydrotherapy to mat exercises to training in the use of mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes and crutches. These professionals assist patients with therapeutic exercises, and help to lift, support and safeguard the more severely impaired.
Physical therapy technicians play an important role educating patients and their families and motivating them to follow treatment regimens at home. They are sometimes responsible for cleaning tasks, such as disinfecting equipment after treatment and maintaining the chemical balance of therapy pools. In some offices, PTTs also assist with medical records and billing documentation.
The satisfaction that results from reducing physical suffering makes this career choice both meaningful and significant. By simultaneously reducing the pain and improving the mobility of the patients they serve, these professionals are able to significantly improve the lives of those suffering from pain and disability.
Physical therapy is performed in hospitals, clinics, medical offices and rehabilitation centers. In traditional medical settings, the hours are fairly regular, with limited weekend or on-call duty. The sports and entertainment industries frequently hire specialized physical therapist technicians as staff to travel with teams and accompany the athletes and entertainers to performance venues. Certification and specialization is a prerequisite for these exceptional job opportunities.
A physical therapy technician must have an associate’s degree to work in this field. An Associate of Physical Therapy Assistant is a two-year program that incorporates classroom learning with clinical experience. Students take academic courses in algebra, anatomy and physiology, English and psychology. Early on, students gain hands-on experience by shadowing physical therapists and physical therapy technicians. By the end of the program, students work as assistants under the close supervision of trained mentors.
The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) oversees and certifies schools that can train future physical therapist technicians. As of 2010, there were 280 accredited programs in the United States with another 46 developing the courses and teachers necessary to become accredited. It is very important to attend an accredited institution to avoid future licensure problems.
After receiving the physical therapist technician/assistant qualification, an internship with a physical therapy facility provides experience in the field. Working internships prepare job seekers to understand better the nature of the work. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website provides information on the specifics of how to interview for and land an internship.
Licensing and/or Certifications
Passing the National Physical Therapy Licensing Examination is required in most states in order to practice. The physical therapist assistant test (PTA NPTE) is 150 questions and lasts 3.5 hours. Register with the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) to take the licensing examination.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Individuals aspiring to be physical therapy technicians should show a strong aptitude for science and physical education. Maintaining good physical condition is critical to be able to handle long hours of standing and assisting patients. PTTs should also have a friendly manner and relaxed attitude and should be comfortable working with people of all ages.
Opportunities for Advancement
Many PTTs continue their studies to obtain a master's or doctorate so as to work as a physical therapist. The years of experience obtained as a technician help to fulfill the requirements for licensure. Physical therapist technicians can also advance in administrative positions, particularly in larger facilities.
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Salary and Job Outlook
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According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapist technician salaries range from $31,840 - $75,530 per year. The median salary is $54,410. Specific salaries depend on the individual's qualifications, education and experience, as well as geographic location and size of the hiring facility.
Job prospects for physical therapist technicians are excellent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the growth projection for this career is 41% from 2012-2022, a much faster than average rate. The fact that the population is aging rapidly makes it likely that physical therapist technicians will be needed for years to come.