Let us help to answer some of the Frequently Asked Questions:
What is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is a type of rehabilitation rendered to individuals of all ages who have sustained a physical injury, short- or long-term painful ailments or disease, or individuals born with a condition that has led to physical impairment, dysfunction, or disability. Physical therapy involves the use of exercise, pain reducing treatments such as electric stimulation, ultrasound, hot/cold therapy, or massage, and patient education to improve, manage, prevent, or overcome the physical symptoms and impairments associated with one’s diagnosis. This rehabilitation is typically carried out by physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. A rehabilitation team including athletic trainers, physical therapy aides, and exercise physiologists may also be involved in the patient’s care.
What is the difference between a Physical Therapist (PT) and a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)? How is an Athletic Trainer different?
A PT would be the person to initially evaluate a patient referred to physical therapy for rehabilitation. They utilize a series of questioning, assessment techniques and measurements to gather information about a patient’s history of their injury or diagnosis to better understand the level of physical difficulty associated with the patient’s problem. This information helps the therapist design treatment goals to be achieved through the plan of care that the PT determines to be most appropriate based on the patient’s needs. The PT can also carry out treatment and reassess a patient’s status to determine if they need any modification to their plan of care.
PT Assistants carry out a designated treatment plan with a patient that has been directed by a PT. Assistants do not perform evaluative techniques, but are trained in recognizing a positive or negative change in patient status in order to request that a reassessment of the patient or change in treatment rendered may be needed.
Both PT’s and PTA’s are involved in direct patient interaction and care, documentation of patient status/ treatment rendered/ patient response to care/ planning for follow-up sessions, and communication with referring doctors or individuals involved in insurance coverage.
Athletic trainers are healthcare professionals educated in the process of on-site evaluation, assessment, treatment and/or emergency response of the physically active during sport participation or in training. They are crucial to educating those individuals in injury prevention and optimizing physical performance. They may also work in a clinical setting aiding in the rehabilitation process of physical therapy delegated by a licensed PT. If you are interested in shared treatment time on the game field and in the clinic, this may be the career path for you. *Someone functioning as a “personal trainer” does not necessarily have a professional degree in physical therapy or athletic training, specializing in injury prevention and treatment.*
What kind of schooling is involved?
Physical therapists are required to earn a master’s or doctorate level degree from a CAPTE (Commission of Accreditation for Physical Therapy Education) accredited PT program. By the year 2020, the vision of the American Physical Therapy Association is that all physical therapists will be required to graduate from a doctorate program. For a PT this typically means 6-7 years of schooling beyond high school. Coursework involves the fundamentals of human/health sciences, neurology, understanding disease and injury processes, physical therapy evaluation and treatment from pediatric to the geriatric population, wound care, research, and clinical on-site internships, amongst others.
Physical therapy assistants must graduate from an accredited PTA program having earned an associate’s degree. Schooling involves 2-3 years for a PTA beyond high school and involves a strong basis in health/human sciences, disease and injury processes, therapeutic exercise training, and patient/community health and injury prevention education.
Athletic trainers must graduate from a CAATE accredited Athletic Training program which can be a bachelor’s level degree, but typically is a master’s level with some schools offering up to a doctorate level degree (4-7 years beyond high school). Coursework involves similar content to physical therapy, but is geared more specifically toward the athletic population. It also includes emergency response training and techniques in optimizing physical performance. For more details on the coursework content for any of the professions mentioned refer to the websites indicated below.
How can you best prepare for your physical therapy education?
A strong academic basis in health and movement sciences is required prior to application to PT school. Mathematics, strong writing skills, and communication skills are also essential. Volunteer work in a physical therapy setting will help you to understand the ins and outs of a day in the life of a PT clinician, will help you develop an idea of the type of PT setting you may be interested in, and shows prospective schools that you have a genuine interest in the field. Physical therapy schooling is a challenging commitment, so it is a good idea to job shadow or volunteer to better understand the field before getting started. This volunteer work is often required upon application to a PT or PTA program. Job experience that involves time management and customer service may also help in your future patient care skills. Each PT, PTA, or AT program will have specific requirements prior to acceptance review. Contact the schools that interest you well in advance to better prepare.
Once an individual has graduated from an accredited PT, PTA, or AT program, can they begin to practice?
Graduates of an accredited PT, PTA, or AT program must pass a national board exam prior to practicing. Once you have successfully passed, you may apply for state licensure. Licensed PTs and PTAs may practice in one of several settings of physical therapy- acute care settings (hospital), subacute (cardiopulmonary/neurological/spinal cord injury/nursing homes/assisted living centers), out-patient settings (orthopedic, sports medicine, industrial, aquatic), home health care, schools, and preventative care facilities. Licensed athletic trainers may work directly with sports teams from youth leagues to the professional athlete level, with active individuals or teams in the training room, or in a variety of sports medicine facilities. Career options for PTs, PTAs, and ATs include teaching in the academic setting and research related to our fields as well. For all of the above types of professionals annual state licensure renewal, CPR training, and (in most states) continuing education coursework are required to remain active in practice.
Why choose a career in Physical Therapy?
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Interested and want to know what to do next?
-Look into accredited PT/PTA/AT academic programs and find out their
-Start calling or researching different PT facilities to see if they have a
volunteer or job shadowing program and get involved. Try to
experience different settings.
-Understand the importance of being active and healthy.
-Compassion, strong work ethics, and professionalism always go a
*For further inquiries, check out the www.APTA.org website or www.NATA.org. You can also contact our center’s coordinator of clinical education at the SOS/Guilford Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine Center PT Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.