My good friend Sharon had no idea what exactly a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) or Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA)’s job description actually was until she broke her arm in a terrible sports incident and needed to go through extensive therapy. She is an energetic, athletic person and she started to worry that she wasn’t going to return to her normal, active self again for quite awhile. As she walked home from her first therapy appointment, however, she called me and raved about her physical therapist and physical therapist assistant and how they taught her so much. As a result, she is starting to have hope that she’ll make a full recovery.
The field of physical therapy is an expanding, exciting profession, and today we will discuss the two growing careers that are becoming increasingly popular.
DPT Job Description
According to the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, a physical therapist is able to treat and care for people during many different stages of life. The DPT job description first includes a full clinical assessment of the patient, and then subscribes an agenda for treatment to individuals to help develop, maintain, and restore maximum movement and function throughout life. A DPT will be a good listener as well as an observer, and will be able to take their objective findings and make a realistic plan to help someone reach their full potential.
Some people would require a physical therapist in order to restore function, like my friend did after an injury. There are often many young people who go to physical therapists after an accident and simply need a few sessions in order to strengthen an injured muscle. Others might require a DPT for habilitative reasons when they are developmentally delayed or challenged, and still others need physical therapy for preventative purposes when they experience a decline in ability (such as the aging population).
DPT Education and Work Life
Considering the DPT job description involves a high level of science and anatomy understanding, most students get their four year Bachelor of Science degree in either sports medicine, kinesiology or biology. One could get a Bachelor of Arts degree, but since the Doctorate of Physical Therapy graduate program requires a good number of science pre-requisites, most students just start that route during the undergraduate curriculum. Basically, you can get whichever degree you want during the undergraduate phase as long as all of the pre-requisites are satisfied. If you know early on that you want to go the physical therapy route, you can also find volunteer opportunities and jobs that would look good on a resume. My good friend during college knew from the beginning that he wanted to be a physical therapist, so what did he do? He became the waterboy for our nationally recognized football team, and by his senior year of undergrad, he was right there next to the team’s physical therapists helping to diagnose and treat football players. After achieving the bachelor’s degree, the graduate degree for your doctorate takes approximately three years of full time schooling and clinicals, plus an internship.
A doctor of physical therapy can work in a large variety of sectors. Some open up their own practice and treat various different types of patients throughout the day and others will work for a large practice. Some therapists will work in the hospital setting treating patients through evaluation, therapy, and planning for discharge. You can also work for sports teams and sports clinics as well as government agencies that support and rehabilitate members of the military.
PTA Job Description
Since we have a good understanding of the DPT’s job description, let’s go on to discuss what a Physical Therapy Assistant does. The PTA job description includes hands on treatment when carrying out the physical therapist’s individualized plan of care for the patient. The PTA and therapist will work together to ensure the patient achieves their maximum level of physical function. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, a physical therapist assistant will work under the direction of a physical therapist to implement therapeutic exercise, balance and gait training, motor learning and development, functional training, deep soft tissue massage, as well as patient and family education. A PTA is crucial in teaching the patient appropriate ways to move or perform certain tasks that will help to promote health and wellness and also prevent further injury.
When my friend Sharon started therapy, she would go three times per week for an hour each time. For the first thirty minutes of each session, she would be evaluated by a DPT. Afterwards, the DPT would hand her off to the PTA to practice certain exercises, and the physical therapist would tell the PTA which new exercises she wanted Sharon to learn.
PTA Education and Work Life
Hopefully now you have a handle on the PTA job description, so your next question may be “what is the education like?”. A physical therapy assistant can sit for their national and state licensure after they successfully complete a two year associate degree program (five semesters) that consist of general education coursework, physical therapy courses, and clinical education. In this program, similar to the DPT program, there is a high emphasis on anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, and neuroscience. While 75% of the education resides in the classroom, the remainder would be completed during clinicals.
Nearly 75% of PTAs work in hospitals or physical therapy practices, while the other 25% work in home health, schools, and rehab units.
Any DPT or PTA that I speak to has a high level of job satisfaction. The ability to work with someone during a weak phase of their life and help them rehabilitate is a very rewarding experience. Whether you want to be more on the evaluation and planning side of physical therapy, or the implementing and treatment side, you’re sure to find an enriching career that can positively impact someone for a long time.
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