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Best Online Degrees in: Physical Therapy Aide

Explore a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy Aide

Physical therapist aides are healthcare support personnel who perform tasks in centers of physical therapy unrelated to direct patient care, such as cleaning treatment areas, preparing therapy equipment for use, or transporting patients from room to room or from bed to wheelchair. They also do basic front office work, such as organization, ordering supplies, answering phones, and insurance paperwork. Since a degree is not required to become a physical therapist aide, the most common online programs available are diploma and certificate programs, which are focused on equipping students with essential skills in computing, medical office software, medical administration, professional office skills, and assisting in the field of physical therapy.

While program lengths vary depending on the school you attend, online physical therapist aide diploma and certificate programs are typically designed to be completed in less than two years, and some can even be completed in one year or less. These programs may offer all instruction online, or offer a combination of distance education and classroom-based learning that incorporates labs and externship requirements.

Class Curriculum

The curriculum in a physical therapy aide programs is designed to prepare students for their supporting role in facilities where physical therapy services are provided. Course work often focuses on tasks associated with this role, such as assisting physical therapists and physical therapist assistants, moving patients, working with wheelchairs and assistive devices, working with physical therapy equipment, and general office tasks. Other core courses generally include:

  • Introduction to Physical Therapy. In this course, students learn about the field of physical therapy, its role in healthcare, and where it is practiced. They also learn about the roles and responsibilities of various professionals in physical therapy and the goals of physical therapy regarding rehabilitation and improved human function.
  • The Role of the Physical Therapist Aide. This course explores the unique contributions of physical therapist aides in physical therapy settings, and takes an in-depth look at aides’ roles and responsibilities. The course also looks at the physical therapist aide’s skillset, which includes clerical, inventory, and setup for treatments.
  • Customer Service. In this course, students learn how to effectively interact with patients in person and over the phone, including written and verbal communication. In addition, students learn how work well as a team with their co-workers, resolve conflicts effectively, and preserve patient confidentiality.

The best physical therapist aide programs will incorporate field work or an internship at approved physical therapy sites so that students can gain hands-on experience in performing the duties of a physical therapist aide. Internships typically require students to perform routine office tasks, move patients as necessary, answer phones, clean physical therapy rooms, and prepare physical therapy equipment for use. Students may need to keep a journal of what they learn on the job during their internship experience to turn into their instructor or internship coordinator.

Building a Career

Becoming a physical therapist aide requires no formal education beyond a high school diploma or its equivalent and generally entails on-the-job training, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, a certificate or diploma program can help set you apart from other job candidates when you are looking for employment, particularly if your education incorporates the real-world experience of an internship. Unlike physical therapist assistants, physical therapist aides do not need to obtain state licensure to do their jobs.

The median yearly salary for physical therapist aides was $23,680 as of May 2010, the BLS noted. Salary varies depending on where you live, the size of your employer, and your level of experience. Employment for these healthcare support personnel is expected to grow 43% between 2010 and 2020 because of the overall projected growth in the healthcare industry, but aides may face significant competition for work because of the ease of entry into the field, the BLS explains. With additional education, licensure, and clinical training, physical therapist aides can move on to become physical therapist assistants, who play a bigger role in patient care and have higher earning power.

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