A physical therapist aide works under the direct supervision or direction of a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant to support physical therapy treatment. Physical therapy treatment entails helping patients that may be accident victims or persons with disabling conditions. Physical therapist aides perform a variety of functions that may include:
- Keeping physical therapy areas clean and organized
- Preparing physical therapy areas for incoming patients
- Preparing for each patients therapy
- Assisting patients, who are mobility challenged, to or from treatment areas
- Performing minor clerical tasks such as ordering supplies, answering the phone, and filling out paperwork
Physical therapist aides are entry level positions that do not require formal training. Most physical therapist aides receive on-the-job training and clinical training. During job training the physical therapist aide will work with experienced employees from three months to a year. Basic requirements are typically a high school diploma and a desire to work with people. Other skills that are helpful in pursuing a physical therapist aide position include good organizational skills, keen listening skills, reading and writing skills, strong interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate effectively, a detailed orientation as well as a service orientation. While physical therapist assistants may require licensure, it is not required for physical therapist aides.
Approximately 72% of physical therapy aides and assistants work in physical therapy facilities or within hospitals according to The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. The remainder work in other areas such as nursing facilities, physicians offices, home health care services or outpatient care centers. Approximately 28% of physical therapist aides and assistants work part time and often physical therapy facilities offer weekend and evening hours to accomodate the needs of their patients.
The physical therapist aide position requires some strength due to the responsibilities of the job. The need to assist and sometimes even lift patients requires the physical therapist aide to have moderate strength. In addition, the physical therapist job is a physical one where the majority of the time is spent standing, stooping, bending, and kneeling.
Employment opportunities in the physical therapy field are growing and at a faster rate than that of many other occupations. However, given the large pool of qualified applicants for physical therapy aide positions, persons pursuing this career may have greater competition for the jobs available. Forecasted growth for 2008-2018 decade, in physical therapy, is 35%. This growth is projected based on a number of factors. First, the elderly population is growing and will continue to do so as baby boomers age and are more likely to experience ailments that require physical therapy. Moreover, as technology advances and better medical treatments become available more trauma patients will survive increasing the need for physical therapy services.
The income for physical therapist aides averaged between $19,910 and $28,670 annually in 2008 and the median annual income for this group was approximately $23,760. In addition, the highest 10 percent earned more than $33,540, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,270. Nursing care facilities provided the highest incomes for physical therapy aides in May of 2008. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of physical therapy aides in May 2008 were as follows:
- $26,530 - Nursing care facilities
- $24,780 - General medical and surgical hospitals
- $24,590 - Specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse) hospitals
- $23,730 - Offices of physicians
- $22,550 - Offices of other health practitioners
The projected need for physical therapist aides in the 2008-2018 timeframe is expected to grow by an additional 16,700 employees.
Job advancement for physical therapist aides is often to become a physical therapist assistant. This may be achieved by gaining experience within an organization as well as by seeking further education.
Typical Physical Therapy Aides Programs May Include Courses in:
- Body Mechanics
- Common Physical Disorders
- Geriatric Physical Therapy
- Human Anatomy
- Introduction to Medical Terminology
- Introduction to Physical Therapy
- Medical Ethics
- Medical Records and Terminology
- Musculoskeletal System
- Patient Care
- Patient Communication
- Patient Positioning
- Pediatric Physical Therapy
- Physical Therapy Exercises
- Physical Therapy Treatments
- Wheelchairs and Assistive Devices
- Clinical hydraulic ifts or accessories
- Electronic Blood pressure units
- Mercury Blood pressure units
- Theraputic heating or cooling pads or compresses or packs
- Vascular compression apparel or supports
- Calendar and scheduling software
- Medical software
- Spreadsheet software
- Word processing software
Resources for Physical Therapy Aides
- The American Physical Therapy Association
- Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association
- A World of Physical Therapy
- An online professional network for Physical Therapy
Schools for Physical Therapist Aides are listed in the Browse Schools Section.