Physical Therapist Assistant Skills: Definition And Examples
Updated 4 March 2023
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Physical therapy (PT) is an important component of orthopaedic treatments that aim at improving function and balance, increasing range of motion, reducing and eliminating pain and managing age-related health issues like osteoporosis and arthritis. Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) work with physical therapists to provide customised PT programs to patients and meet their treatment goals. Learning about the skills required for this profession can help you serve patients better and provide quality care. In this article, we list physical therapist assistant skills and review some tips and ways to highlight the skills during job interviews.
What Are Physical Therapist Assistant Skills?
Physical assistant skills are a combination of hard skills and soft skills that professionals use on the job or to advance their careers. These skills can help you assist patients with pain management, counselling and treatment. PTAs work under the supervision of physical therapists to assess patients' conditions, needs and outcomes and help design a comprehensive treatment plan to help patients regain their health. They work in hospitals or physical therapists' offices. As a PTA, the job duties include interacting directly with patients, monitoring their progress, helping patients with exercises, maintaining medical records and advising them on treatment options.
PTA is an in-demand role, which requires a strong skill set of hard skills, such as an understanding of human anatomy and knowledge of different exercises, along with soft skills like communication skills, patience and empathy.
Related: Physical Therapist Vs. Physiotherapist: Learn The Difference
Examples Of PTA Skills
Here are some examples of physical therapist assistant skills:
Empathy is the ability to recognise and understand others' feelings, emotions and viewpoints. Developing empathy allows you to resolve conflict, work effectively and build stronger relationships within and outside an organisation. You can offer quality care to your patients through empathy, relieve their pain through manual exercises and help in the long-term recovery of their condition by understanding their health.
Related: Empathic Skills: Definition And Examples (With Tips)
Attention to detail
Physical therapist assistants are responsible for observing patients before, during and after treatment and report their observations to the physical therapist. Observing their progress requires strong attention to detail. This skill also helps ensure patients follow their prescribed routine and maintain correct posture.
Related: How To Be More Detail-Oriented (With Definition And Resume Tips)
By using manual therapy techniques and strength training exercises, PTAs work with physical therapists to assist patients in regaining their mobility. Exercise can be a challenging part of physical therapy. Patients undergoing rehabilitation often need physical assistance from these professionals. PTAs require physical strength to demonstrate exercises to patients, administrate traction on certain body parts, perform therapeutic massages and set up equipment.
Related: How To Become A Physiotherapist In 5 Steps (With Salary)
During the evaluation process, PTAs communicate with patients about their acute symptoms and their current and desired fitness and health levels. Effective communication is an important part of their role. PTAs also require communicating with patients in plain language and asking clarifying questions to learn about their needs.
These professionals treat a wide range of conditions, including joint injuries and neurological diseases. With persuasive skills, PTAs can explain treatment plans to patients, help them set realistic goals and recommend modifications to treatment plans. These activities contribute to patients feeling more positive.
Related: What Is Persuasion? Definition, Examples And How It Works
How To Improve Physical Therapist Assistant Skills?
Follow these steps if you want to improve your skills:
1. Enroll in a technical training course
A technical training course can provide you with knowledge of physical therapy processes and equipment. You may pursue specialised training in areas such as treatment planning, patient care, rehabilitation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other first-aid skills. Consider becoming proficient in using advanced proprietary devices, such as multi-cell units and negative resistance trainers, for administering physical therapy. Clinical mentors with expertise in the content area provide guidance to participants.
2. Stay updated with technological developments
Stay current with the newest technologies available in physical therapy. Join professional organisations for physical therapists, research technology and medicine online and read medical journals. You can also develop advanced skills, such as using smart data, virtual technologies and responsive wearables.
3. Seek guidance from professional associations
Physical therapy associations offer networking and collaboration opportunities, provide professional education and resources and promote evidence-based practice. You can join these associations to learn more about physical therapy and treatment plans. This can help you hone your social skills and technical expertise.
Physical Therapist Assistant Skills In The Workplace
Below are a few of the desirable workplace skills for physical therapy assistants:
Multitasking is common among physical therapist assistants. For instance, you may care for several patients simultaneously. As a physical therapist assistant, you need strong multitasking skills to prioritise your duties and keep track of the patients' progress, maintain equipment, follow physical therapists' instructions and suggest changes to the treatment plan.
Physical therapy assistants require the ability to observe their patients regularly and monitor the progress of their treatment. The ability to observe closely also allows you to understand your patients better and treat them more effectively. For instance, a patient may skip an exercise. Then, it may be worth considering the reason behind it, such as fear of pain and suggesting an alternative procedure or counselling to ease their anxiety.
Related: How To Improve Observation Skills: A Comprehensive Guide
It is important to possess critical thinking skills as a PTA to reduce or minimise the pain your patients experience, restore their functional abilities and prevent further injuries. Key critical thinking skills include information gathering, analysis, interpretation and problem-solving. This skill helps in assessing treatment options and determining what works and what does not. Using your critical thinking skills, you can make adjustments to aspects of the treatment that might need changes. You can seek guidance from other professionals about the best ways to evaluate the evidence and identify and implement potential solutions.
Related: Critical Thinking Skills: Definitions And Examples
For PT programs to be effective, these professionals require working closely with physical therapists. PTAs need a collaborative mindset to work with other professionals across teams to learn and improve patient outcomes. Keep an open dialogue with your patients and peers and take their feedback into consideration.
Related: Collaboration Skills: Definition, Benefits And Examples
First aid skills
PTAs clean wounds, apply dressings, perform tissue palpations and evaluate patients. You require first aid training for this position. This skill can help in providing immediate care during emergencies, relieve pain and promote early recovery.
PT assistants assist physical therapists by taking patient information, recording their progress and reporting results to them. Some organisations also require you to prepare discharge reports. Documentation skills are essential for creating accurate records and reducing the risk of miscommunication.
How To Highlight Physical Assistant Therapist Skills?
Following are the ways you can highlight your PTA skills during job interviews:
On a resume
Review the job description when applying for a new job. Find out what skills the employer is seeking. Create a list of all the keywords in the job posting. Include your skills in your resume after reviewing the company's requirements and preferences. You can use relevant keywords from the job description. There are different sections in your resume where you can include your skills, including the professional summary, skills, experiences and accomplishments sections.
For instance, you can highlight your knowledge of administering manual exercises, the ability to operate prosthetic and orthotic devices and providing quality care by interpreting evaluations and test results.
During job interviews
The job interview is an opportunity to present your skills to the hiring manager. Respond to relevant questions with a humble yet confident tone when discussing your skills. You may mention your skills when responding to a question about your strengths and weaknesses or when discussing your work and achievements while at the previous company.
For instance, you can share your experience of assisting in restoring a patient's function with your expertise in first-aid and problem-solving skills that resulted in the early recovery of the patient.
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