Interested in the field of physical therapy but not interested in pursuing a associates degree or higher? A career as a physical therapy technician can be an attainable, rewarding direction to take with family-friendly hours and opportunity for challenge and growth.
While a physical therapist assistant provides direct patient care under the supervision of a physical therapist, a physical therapy technician (also called a physical therapy aide) ensures the practice runs well and patients have a positive experience from first encounter through to the completion of their treatment. Some of the tasks physical therapy technicians perform on a daily basis can include:
Answering phones, taking messages, and routing calls
Scheduling and reminding patients of upcoming appointments as well as keeping the practice on schedule
Entering patient information into the electronic medical record
Printing patient treatment plans so the PT or PTA can review them with the patient
Setting up rooms with appropriate equipment prior to each appointment
Cleaning and disinfecting rooms after each patient leaves
Washing linens and performing general housekeeping tasks throughout the practice
Escorting patients to treatment areas so they're ready for the therapist at their appointment time
The specific tasks a physical therapy technician can assist with depends on their level of training and certification. Some technicians enter the workforce without formal training or certification. Those techs may be limited to more clerical and supportive work, while certified technicians with formal training are able to provide more direct patient care under the supervision of a physical therapist (depending on the state and practice). In a long-term care setting, physical therapy technicians may help residents complete their exercises.
You can become a physical therapy technician in less than a year. When you're ready to start the process, here are the most important steps to take:
Earn your high school diploma or GED. In most cases, you'll need a high school diploma or GED in order to apply for and be accepted into a physical therapy technician program at a college or university. You can begin applying for physical therapy technician programs before you graduate from high school; this gives you time to plan for your transition and take any additional steps needed before you start your program.
Apply to physical therapy technician programs. Before submitting your application, review eligibility criteria thoroughly to ensure you meet all prerequisites and remedy any areas in which additional qualifications are needed. Depending on the level of competitiveness, you may choose to apply to more than one program to keep your options open.
Complete your physical therapy technician program and your 180-externship (included in your program).
Begin applying for jobs as a physical therapy technician! The Texas Board of Physical Therapy Examiners does not license physical therapy technicians, so there are no license or certification requirements aside from earning your certificate through an accredited program.
Choosing a school that provides career placement counseling can help you find the right role more quickly after graduation.
Physical therapy technicians can be trained on the job, as no formal training is required by law in order to work as a PT technician. However, completing a certificate program demonstrates your commitment to the field, with formal training better prepares you for success in your role, and makes your resume more competitive next to applicants who lack experience or who will require on-the-job training. Completing a certificate program shows an employer that you'll be ready to hit the ground running, and that you'll add value to their practice beginning your first day. Not only will you require less training, but you may also bring new ideas and insights from your formal training that add value to the practice as a whole.
Physical therapy technicians are not certified by a national or state board. Rather, they can complete a post-secondary certificate program to earn a certificate of completion as a physical therapy technician. Those who work in long-term care or some other settings may also choose to maintain a Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) certification to ensure they're able to assist residents with transferring and mobility.
The certificate program at the College of Health Care Professions takes just 36 weeks to complete, including a 180-hour externship that provides you with the opportunity to apply what you've learned in a real-life setting. Some of the courses you can expect to take during your program include:
Anatomy and Physiology for Physical Therapy Technologist
Introduction to Physical Therapy Technology
Pathophysiology for Physical Therapy Technologist
Sports Injury Management
Customer Service/Professionalism and Career Preparation
Demand for physical therapy assistants and aides is projected to increase much faster than average over the next ten years, which means there will likely be opportunities for new graduates to find work in their field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while growth for all occupations is around 8%, growth for PT assistants and aides ranges from 25-32%. Because the majority of the openings in this area are to replace PT techs who are retiring or changing careers, there is expected to be more openings available than technicians to fill them.
Physical therapy technicians work in physical therapy offices, hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities. Most physical therapy aides work full-time and have family-friendly hours (although they may extend into the evening and weekends, but aren't common for physical therapy technicians). In this field, being on-call is rarely required, so it's very possible to find employment that allows you to fully disconnect during your time away from work.
While physical therapists can specialize, physical therapy technicians don't have the same opportunity. However, as you begin your career, it's common to settle into a "space" that becomes your specialty - like long-term care or clinic, for example. The more time you spend in a single setting or practice, the easier it becomes to anticipate the needs of the therapist, bring new ideas to the table, and master new skills that add value to the practice.
Becoming a physical therapy technician is a great way to make a difference in a healthcare setting without pursuing years and years of expensive post-secondary education. Because the program is relatively short, it often works well for various types of students - including those who go to school while working or caring for their families.
While certification isn't required to get started, a candidate who has completed a formal certificate program is a much more attractive candidate than one who hasn't; it demonstrates your commitment to learning and the foundational knowledge you'll bring to any role.
Contact The College of Health Professions today to learn more about our Physical Therapy Tech Program or to get started.