This is the first article of a three part series.
By: Mathew Hilton, SPT, ACLS, PALS
University of Delaware Physical Therapy Class of 2017
We are in the midst of summer and while many students are building their best application for physical therapy school, there are other big opportunities that you should pursue while you are not enrolled in a full course load (or any course load). You should definitely take some time to relax and recharge, also keep in mind that this is the perfect time to find a position as a physical therapy (PT) aide.
For those who don’t know, a PT aide (or PT technician) is a paid entry-level position, typically found in outpatient orthopedic physical therapy clinics that involves directly working with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. This position is different from being a PT volunteer because a PT aide is responsible for instructing patients through exercise programs while also applying ice, heat, and in some states, ultrasound and electrical stimulation.
Here are some of the big reasons you should consider pursuing these positions:
1. Big PTCAS Application Impact
As a PT aide, you may be working anywhere from 10-40 hours per week and therefore you’ll be gaining observation hours for your application (and $$$) much faster than a typical volunteer who may only spend 3-10 hours per week (unpaid) in a clinic.
Also keep in mind that you’ll be spending much more time working alongside staff physical therapists so it naturally creates an opportunity for you to build better rapport and acquire stronger letters of reference for your application.
2. Patient Interaction
This position will truly help you figure out if you want to become a physical therapist. You’ll be working directly with patients to learn about their lives, their conditions and their goals for recovery. The pace of the clinic can be challenging and may require you to work between several patients simultaneously, therefore time management is crucial. If you enjoy a dynamic workplace where you’re always on your feet and talking with others, then this will most likely be a great fit for you.
3. Master the Exercises
For someone who loves anatomy, biomechanics and weight-lifting, I found this to be a great way to directly apply what I was learning in a clinical setting. As a PT aide, you’ll be responsible for not only knowing how to perform the exercises, but you’ll also be expected to demonstrate them, recognize common compensations and cue patients to correct their form.
Not only will this be a rewarding clinical experience, but you’ll be well ahead of the learning curve when you begin PT school as you will already know how to perform exercises, stretches and adjust the difficulty as necessary.
Overall, a PT aide experience is an extremely rewarding and enriching opportunity that should not be overlooked as you build your best application to PT school. Even if you are applying in this application cycle, it is not too late to find a PT aide position and gain at least half a year of aide experience (like I did).
The challenge for most people will be landing these competitive positions, especially during the summer when many students will be applying for openings at the same time. Stay posted for my next post where I will go over some of the key tips for succeeding in the PT aide application process!