National Physical Therapy Month - Expert Interview & Advocacy Guide
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According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), each year, inadequate physical activity leads to over $117 billion in healthcare costs across the country. Not only is this expensive for individuals, employers, and insurance companies, but it also leads to a reduced quality of life for many Americans.
Physical therapy is vital for restoring movement and function for people who have reduced activity or have experienced an injury, illness, or other health condition. Every day, physical therapists and physical therapy assistants help people of all ages get back to living life to the fullest.
Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) play a critical role in physical therapy treatment. They work alongside physical therapists to help patients exercise, stretch and do other exercises written in a treatment plan. PTAs also help patients with activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing. The benefits of physical therapy treatment include improved movement, less pain, improved function, and quality of life.
To honor the important work of physical therapists and PTAs, October is set aside as National Physical Therapy Month. This month is an excellent time to recognize the vital role that physical therapists play in helping people recover, advocate for the importance of physical therapy and its benefits, and to remind people of the importance of maintaining their own physical health.
Keep reading to learn how to get involved with National Physical Therapy Month, the role of PTAs, and how to start a career as a PTA.
Meet the Expert: Sara Bogner, DPT
Dr. Sara Bogner is the director of the physical therapist assistant program at Mendocino College. She has been a physical therapist in Ukiah and other Northern California areas for the past 22 years. Her bachelor’s of science in exercise and movement science is from the University of Oregon with a bachelor’s of science in exercise and movement science. She also received a master’s of science in physical therapy from Regis University and completed a doctor of physical therapy degree from AT Stills University.
She has worked in various patient care settings over the years and began teaching anatomy at Mendocino College in 2016, where she was instrumental in developing the physical therapist assistant program.
The Role of a Physical Therapy Assistant
PTAs are essential in delivering physical therapy services: “Physical therapist assistants work alongside a physical therapist. They do all the same things that physical therapists would do, except that they don’t do the initial evaluations, certain types of assessments, and discharges,” shares Dr. Bogner.
“PTAs do the interventions, daily treatments, write notes, and communicate with the PT regularly about whether the person is getting better or not. PTAs work as a team with the PT to provide the best care possible for a patient.”
Demand for physical therapy is on a steady upward trend, and with it, there is a demand for more care providers. “It’s important to have PTAs because our population is aging at a rapid pace, and there are many people that need to be seen. You need the PTs to do the initial evaluation, but every PT in California can supervise two PTAs. So a PT on staff can do evaluations, and then two PTAs can treat those patients. This way, you can get more patients seen,” shares Dr. Bogner.
How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant
Becoming a PTA is a straightforward process: “The educational requirement is a two-year associate’s degree. So that is a really short period of time as far as degrees within the physical therapy field,” says Dr. Bogner.
On the other hand, physical therapists must earn at least a master’s degree, which takes two years of education after completing a bachelor’s degree. There are also doctoral degrees, which position candidates for positions in leadership: “DPT programs are really expensive, but if you’re somebody who loves this type of work and wants to be in the field of physical therapy, then PTA is a good choice,” she says.
While some programs require students to be on campus full-time, other alternatives exist. “The program at Mendocino College is a hybrid program. It was designed so that we have online courses for typical lecture courses. Then students come into labs twice a week on a block schedule,” Dr. Bogner says. “For example, students in their first year come on Thursday mornings, and they’re in the lab for three or four hours. They then spend a night here and return to the lab on Friday morning. When labs are over, they drive back to wherever they live and can do all the online coursework at their own pace.”
Becoming a PTA: Low Barrier To Entry For An Outstanding Career
Because the education requirements only take two years to complete, this is a career that students can enter relatively quickly. “There is a very low barrier for admission to a PTA program compared to PT school because PT school is super competitive,” says Dr. Bogner. Because of the laws for community colleges in California, the Mendocino College physical therapy assistant program is open to anyone who meets the requirement.
“We can’t do merit-based admissions,” she says. “We want there to be this opportunity for anybody to be able to get into the program. The only prerequisites are four prerequisite courses with passing grades. The classes are anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, and an introduction to physical therapy class.” Students who meet the requirements and are admitted are placed into a lottery for a spot. Since Mendocino Colleges’s program is relatively new, most students get a spot.
Not only are many PTA programs easy to get into, but they can also be highly affordable with high wages after graduating. Dr. Bogner notes that residents of California only have to pay $46 per credit, so the total cost of the degree is around $2,000. “Students generally have either very low or no debt when they finish this program. Then starting salaries in our area of rural northern California are $25 to $30 an hour, and then they go up from there,” she says.
The Importance of National Physical Therapy Month for Physical Therapy Assistants
Physical therapy assistants play an important role in providing quality care to patients and helping them to achieve their rehabilitation goals. This month offers an opportunity for physical therapy assistants to share information about their profession with the public and promote the many benefits of physical therapy: “I think National Physical Therapy Month is important for PTAs to get the word out that it is a profession that people can get into easily. There are low barriers to admission, it is a great job, and it has a living wage,” says Dr. Bogner.
During National Physical Therapy Month, physical therapy assistants can take advantage of educational opportunities, participate in community outreach events, and connect with other professionals in their field. This is a great time to promote the profession and advocate for the importance of physical therapy services.
By raising awareness during this month, physical therapy assistants can help more people understand the vital role they play in improving the quality of life for patients dealing with a wide range of conditions and injuries. “The more publicity the profession gets, the more people realize how much we can help,” says Dr. Bogner.