PTs and PTAs Working Together: A Physical Therapy Student's Enlightenment
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Although there are lectures and assignments in school related to the PT–PTA experience, as a physical therapist student, I set out to learn more about how the relationship between the PT–PTA team impacts the profession and the patients we serve. I sought answers to questions about the individuals I would be working with in order to provide optimal care for future patients, and what steps I could take now as a student to obtain the best outcomes while working alongside a PTA.
I was fortunate to discuss my lack of knowledge and experience with third-year students in our program, one of whom was a PTA and who decided to continue his education to become a PT. His unique perspective provided me with valuable insight into the relationship between the PT and PTA in the clinical setting. He informed us that when we are in a clinical setting, PTAs are our teammates whom we collaborate with regularly. After this conversation I had questions: What do PTAs learn? What skills does a PTA have? How does collaboration with a PT work? How can they treat patients? Do PTA students have the opportunity to interact with a supervising PT?
This realization led me to this point: It seems that as physical therapy students we need more exposure to the interworkings of the PT–PTA relationship before we enter the clinic. Having the opportunity to learn about our most valuable resource, our PTA teammates, during our formative education and clinical experiences can only make us better clinicians.
Janet Crosier, PT, DPT, MEd, compares the PT–PTA team to "a well-oiled machine" in the PT–PTA team tool kit, a document APTA has developed in collaboration with engaged leaders and volunteers in our association to help improve the relationship between PTs and PTAs. The tool kit highlights a need to understand the education and scope of practice for PTAs as well as state laws governing our practice, a problem-solving guide to give direction when providing interventions as a team, and the responsibilities of PTs in supervising PTAs.
The first key to understanding the tools in the PT–PTA team tool kit is to understand the education required to graduate with a PTA degree.
Here is a summary of entry-level PTA education requirements:
- PTA programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
- Associate degree (not all are applied science associate degrees)
Average length of program is 2 years (5 semesters)
- Required licensure exam
- Successful performance on the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
- The PTA curriculum requires coursework in written communication and biological, physical, behavioral, and social sciences including content and learning experiences about cardiovascular, endocrine and metabolic, gastrointestinal, genial and resproductive, hematologic, hepatic and biliary, immune, integumentary, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, nervous, respiratory, and renal and urologic systems; and the medical and surgical conditions across the life span commonly seen by physical therapist assistants
- Basic sciences including anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, human growth and development, musculoskeletal, kinesiology, and neuroscience
- Technical courses including rehabilitation techniques, orthopedics, therapeutic procedures and interventions, pathophysiology, documentation, and gait analysis
- Clinical experience: 520-720 hours (can be under the supervision of a PT or PTA, depending on the program)
Graduates from PTA programs are fully equipped with skills to perform interventions, collect data on patient and client condition relative to established safety parameters, and monitor a patient's safety and response to selected interventions as directed by the PT. PTAs have a knowledge of the sciences underlying physical therapy interventions.
It's also important to note that PTAs are trained to communicate with other health care providers, interact with patients and families, and work collaboratively with others on the rehabilitation team.
Practicing PTAs can maintain current competency, accessing the same CEU opportunities as PTs through courses offered by APTA. Additionally, PTAs can advance their knowledge and skills through APTA's Advanced Proficiency Pathway (APP) program in the content areas of acute care, cardiovascular/pulmonary, geriatrics, oncology, orthopaedics, pediatrics, and wound management.
As trusted health care providers seeking to provide optimal care for our patients, we as PTs are not in this alone. Instead we have outstanding teammates like our PTA colleagues who are working with us for the best quality outcomes for our patients because, after all, we're #BetterTogether.
APTA offers numerous resources on PT and PTA relationships and models for patient care.
This blog post is the second in a series entitled the #StrongAtHome campaign which is an effort by SPTs and SPTAs to strengthen the relationship between both professions. Watch our video for more. View the first post from this series here. Use the hashtag on Twitter and Facebook to be a part of the conversation!
Eleyn Fangonilo, SPT, is a member of the APTA Student Assembly Interprofessional Collaboration Project Committee.