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Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapist assistants assist physiotherapists in the implementation of treatment programs designed to improve or maintain clients' abilities to function independently.

Also Known As:Physical Therapy Assistant, Physical/Occupational Therapist Assistant, Physiotherapist Assistant, Rehabilitation Assistant, Therapist Assistant
NOC Number(s):3414.2
Minimum Education:2 years post-secondary education/training
Employment Outlook:Job openings generated due to employment turnover. Occupational outlook currently unavailable.
Interests:M S o

Duties | Working Conditions | Personal Characteristics | Education | Employment | Salary | Other Information | Related Occupations | Related School Subjects | Related Field of Study

Duties

Physical therapist assistants' duties vary from one position to another. For example, they may work in outpatient clinics with clients who have orthopedic issues, in extended care settings with geriatric clients, or in hospital settings with patients who have a variety of disorders or who have undergone surgery. Whatever the setting, they work under the direction and supervision of physiotherapists.

Physical therapist assistants may:

  • implement treatment plans, designed by physical therapists, for individual clients and groups
  • perform lifts and transfers, and help patients correctly position themselves
  • prepare and apply hot or cold packs, hydrotherapy and wax treatments
  • assist patients with activities such as stretching, individual exercises, posture re-education and gait re-education
  • administer electrotherapy treatments such as ultrasound, interferential treatment, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and electrical muscle stimulation
  • measure patients for walking aides (for example, canes, walkers)
  • apply braces or artificial limbs and instruct clients in the use of crutches, canes and walkers 
  • lead or participate in group exercise or activity classes
  • monitor patients during treatments, individual activities and exercise classes, and report patient performance
  • perform postural drainage, percussions and vibrations for treatment of respiratory conditions and teach deep breathing exercises.

Physical therapist assistants also may:

  • adjust and monitor the operation of equipment
  • prepare treatment areas and electrotherapy equipment for use by physiotherapists
  • check and store equipment
  • clean physical therapy equipment and treatment areas
  • change and launder linen
  • perform clerical tasks such as documenting activities, keeping track of statistics, maintaining an inventory of equipment, ordering supplies and equipment, answering telephones and scheduling appointments.

Working Conditions

Physical therapist assistants work in a variety of settings including private practices, hospitals, long term care facilities, schools and private homes. They generally work weekdays but may be required to work some evenings and weekends. Health care settings can be high stress environments.

The work can be physically demanding. Physical therapist assistants help clients to transfer, stand, walk and exercise and may be on their feet for long periods of time.  They also may be required to move equipment weighing up to 20 kilograms. To avoid injury, they must use proper methods for lifting and moving.


Personal Characteristics

Physical therapist assistants need the following characteristics:

  • physical and mental fitness
  • good observation and organizational skills
  • the ability to deal with people who are under physical and emotional stress
  • the ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • the ability to encourage patient confidence and participation
  • flexibility and adaptability
  • good interpersonal skills
  • good oral and written communication skills
  • patience
  • manual dexterity
  • strength and stamina
  • the ability to follow directions closely.

They should enjoy having clear guidelines and organized methods for their work, helping people and using therapeutic equipment.


Educational Requirements

Employers generally prefer to hire graduates of related post-secondary diploma programs.

In Alberta, the following post-secondary institutions offer related diploma programs:

  • Grant MacEwan University offers a two year Therapist Assistant diploma program with a combined physical therapist assistant/occupational therapist assistant major. Applicants must have a high school diploma with a minimum overall average of at least 65 per cent (with no course grade lower than 50 per cent) in English Language Arts 30-1 or 30-2, Biology 30, Chemistry 30 or Science 30 and two other required courses.
  • Medicine Hat College offers a two year Physical Therapist Assistant diploma program onsite and by distance education. Applicants must have a high school diploma with at least 60 per cent in English Language Arts 30-1, Biology 30, and two other Grade 12 subjects, one of which must be a 30 level science or math.
  • NorQuest College in Edmonton offers a two year Physical Therapy Assistant diploma program by distance and non-distance. The entrance requirement is a high school diploma with English Language Arts (ELA) 30-1 (or 70 per cent in ELA 30-2), Pure or Applied Math 10 and at least 60 per cent in Biology 30, or equivalent. 
  • The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary offers a 14 month Rehabilitation Therapy Assistant diploma program on campus with some self-study and online components. Students take a core curriculum for the first two semesters (September - April) then branch into one of two areas: occupational therapist assistant or physical therapist assistant. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent with an average of at least 60 per cent in English Language Arts 30-1, Biology 30, and Chemistry 20 or Science 20.

For all programs, CPR for Health Care Professionals and Standard First Aid certification, current immunizations, and a clear criminal record check including vulnerable sector check are required at the time of admission and updates may be required over the course of the program.

For current information about programs, admission requirements and mature student admission policies, please check post-secondary calendars or websites.

Section revised April 2012

Employment and Advancement

Physical therapist assistants are employed in:

  • hospitals
  • rehabilitation centres
  • continuing care facilities
  • community and government health agencies
  • home care agencies
  • physiotherapists' offices and clinics
  • schools.

Some positions involve working as an occupational therapist assistant as well as a physical therapist assistant (for more information, see the Occupational Therapist Assistant occupational profile).

Without further education, advancement opportunities for physical therapist assistants are limited.

Physical therapist assistants are part of the larger National Occupational Classification 3414: Other Assisting Occupations in Support of Health Services. In Alberta, most people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Section revised November 2013

Salary

According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Other Assisting Occupations in Support of Health Services occupational group earned on average from $16.80 to $23.60 an hour. The mean wage for this group was $20.11 an hour.

For more detailed information, see WAGEinfo.

Wages for physical therapist assistants typically range from $20.23 to $24.49 an hour (2010 estimate).

Wages in private practice settings tend to be lower than those in public service settings such as hospitals. For information about current collective agreements in the public and not-for-profit sectors, see the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) website.

Section revised February 2012

Other Sources of Information

Post-secondary institution calendars and websites (see Educational Requirements above)

EDinfo website: www.alis.alberta.ca/edinfo

Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) website: www.hsaa.ca 

Physiotherapy Alberta College + Association website: www.physiotherapyalberta.ca

Therapy Assistant Association of Alberta (ThAAA) website: www.thaaa.ca


Related Occupational Profiles
Chiropractic Assistant
Community Disability Services Practitioner
Dental Assistant
Occupational Therapist Assistant
Ophthalmic Medical Personnel
Physiotherapist
Recreation Therapy Aide
Speech-Language Assistant

Related High School Subjects
English Language Arts; Health, Recreation and Human Services (Health Care Services; and Recreation Leadership); and Science (Biology; and Chemistry)

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
Health Care and Medical Sciences

Produced November 2010
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For more information on career planning, occupations and educational programs, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at alis.alberta.ca, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-661-3753 or 780-422-4266 in Edmonton or visit an Alberta Works Centre near you.

The information contained in this profile was current as of the dates shown. Salaries, employment outlook and educational programs may change. Please check the information before making any career decisions.


Government of Alberta, Human Services