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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

PTAs Weigh In!

Published March 30, 2009 10:06 AM by Lisa Lombardo
I was happy to see my editorial from March 23 print issue (Up Front, page 3) received so much response. The editorial read in part: "How has the changing profession of physical therapy impacted PT assistants? Changes to Medicare, third-party payer rules, an ever-aging patient population, a stagnant economy and fluctuating demand for therapy services can make an impact on PTAs and how they are used. Many in the profession think it already has."

Many PTAs responded with their concerns and a general appreciation of the topic. One wrote, "I am a PTA of three years now and currently exploring my options of going to PT school. Why? Because PTAs are overlooked, underpaid and unappreciated. We are well-educated professionals who do not get the recognition and the chance to advance in our field as the PT does. I have worked with fully competent PTAs including myself who deserve more than what is offered to us. The PT gets opportunities to become rehab directors, lead therapists, mentors, corporate positions as new grads-but what about us? Why isn't the PTA given the opportunity to hold a higher position? Because we don't have a doctorate and can't do an eval and discharge?"

Another mentioned reimbursement concerns: "I have been witness to insurance with...restrictions on PTAs who have already put into effect the refusal to reimburse for services rendered by a PTA, in effect phasing out the PTA as a profession."

And this writer mentioned education constraints: "The [editorial] mentioned the APTA talking about the future of PTAs but left me wanting more information from them as to any kind of resolution. It seems to me to be a waste of time to even be an assistant because of how the APTA has dead-ended the field. I think there needs to be options for those of us who want to evolve to a DPT level. Thank you for bringing light to this subject."

I get a chance to update state-by-state numbers on how many PTAs are registered in each state for our periodic regional supplements in print. While I have not tracked a drastic change, the numbers of registered PTAs seem to stay the same or have dropped slightly. This is in areas such as the lower south regions (GA, FL) and even in northern states such as NY and PA. Are there not enough applicants, or are more PTAs pursuing other options or returning to school to become PTs? I encourage PTAs to keep the comments and information coming.

20 comments

It is really sad to see you do not have the respect for education and all the hard work that a PT has gone through to get to where they are, not to mention all the expense.  A PTA is just that, a physical therapist ASSISTANT, not a therapist-and assistant.  If you are unhappy with your title, you have all the right to go back to school and become a treating therapist.  Experience does speak volumes, but overall PTA's do not have the advance knowledge to understand the complex workings of pathology and biomechanics needed to efficiently treat the patient.  That is not to say PTA's do not understand at all, but not as through as the therapist.  The bottom line is this, if you are unhappy and feel you are not respected as an assistant, please feel free to go back to school and become a therapist.  We as PT's had to do it and not it was not fun or easy, so stop winning and do something about it or just be happy with what you have.  In order for us to continue to earn the respect in the profession field, we need to have the advanced level of education.  I have worked with many different PTA's in various settings and I can tell you their knowledge is OK, but just remember that every treatment is a reassessment of the pt and PT's do a poor job (not all, but most) of analyzing and treating appropriately.  

Tom Gerald, Physical Therapy - Dr, SNF November 10, 2012 10:39 AM
Grove City PA

I have been a PTA for over 12 years. Where I work at  I do get the respect from other PT's. Actually they come to me alot to analyze gait and exercise options. But I can see how working in some clinics some PT's may treat us different. When I first started out working I was 21. And the elder population had a difficult time with trusting me to do my job as well as SNF PT's. But we as PTA's DO need a Bridge program. I hate the idea that I can not see patients without supervision. Therefore I am limited with working in a small clinic.

Shannon Fuiten-Crawford, PTA December 11, 2009 4:07 PM
East Jordan MI

I agree whole heartedly about the APTA not supporting PTA's like they should.  At least now there is a better APTA President than one in the past, Ben Massey.  It is sad that a PT leader, who has evidently only worked in the upper education field for so many years looks down on our profession of PTA's.  I have been a PTA for 10+ years, and sadly, I could do a better job evaluating than some of my co-workers over the years.  The newer grads do not know how to work with PTA's, and depending on the school, UNC in particular, looks down at PTA's.  The only reason I am not a PT is 18 years ago when I graduated with a BS degree, PT school was harder to get in than Medical school.  Just because our degree comes from a community college in the state of NC, should not be frowned upon.  There is a waiting list to apply and be accepted, we must maintain a certaiin GPA in order to graduate (at least the school I attended had this), and we still must pass a licensure exam.  PT's look at your support staff and treat us FAIRLY!  Many did not have the money to attend PT school or were not accepted, but most of us take our career more seriously than you do, and should be commended on how weel we do our job!!!

B , Orthopaedic - PTA September 2, 2009 11:38 PM
Raleigh NC

I feel all of your pain...I, too, am a PTA and i have been practicing for 12 years. I am so sick of the times PTs i've worked with made me feel like i was inferior to them. Once one female PT commented that i dressed well for a PTA. What is that supposed to mean? I am so disgusted by the lack of growth in our field that i'm actually thinking about pursuing another career.

vanessa, PTA August 5, 2009 9:17 PM
NY

I have been a PTA for 15 years and am also disgusted at the way PTA's are being treated. New PTs have absolutely no respect for the PTA. I really would like to become a PT, but the lack of a bridge program is infuriating. Thanks for all your help and support APTA! Where do i write my letters and where can i call and try to change this? The APTA could care less!

Denise, ALL - PTA, N/A April 29, 2009 5:52 PM
chickamauga GA

I feel so daunted to hear other PTAs like myself find themselves in a profession in which growth and opportunities are vacant but yet we are passionate in what we do and care for our patients. I know many PTAs I would not hesitate to be treated by or recommending family to over some PTs. Not only of their ( PTAs)experience and knowledge base but also their committment. These are the type of people that want to excel in what they have a passion for and develop programs that will encourage professional growth instead of focusing on foreign trained therapist whos first committment is a generous salary because they have the jurisdiction to evaluate and co- sign notes. I also lost count of PT- DPT transitional programs compared to the 2 PTA-PT programs. There needs to be an active PT voice especially one that holds a position within the APTA to get any form of audience to listen to what makes sense.

Steven , PTA April 27, 2009 10:10 PM

I HAVE FELT THE PAIN OF MY FELLOW PTA'S AND I AM IN TOTAL AGREEMENT WITH COMMENTS I'VE HEARD IN THIS ARTICLE. 14+YEARS IN THE FIELD & STILL WE CANT GET ANYTHING DONE. TO ALL PTA'S, JUST LIKE IN OUR PROFESSION WE TOO, MUST THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX. REGARDLESS OF YOUR SETTING WE MUST USE OUR VOICES AND OUR BRAINS UNTIL WE'RE HEARD IF WE EXPECT ANYTHING TO CHANGE. KEEP THIS ISSUE HOT! ONE LAST COMMENT, JUST WANTING SOMETHING TO CHANGE  SIMPLY ISN'T ENOUGH, WE HAVE TO MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN, FROM THE STUDENT LEVEL TO THE CAREER PROFESSIONAL. LETS GO PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JIM HILL, PHYSICAL THERAPY - pta, HILL PHYSICAL THERAPY April 25, 2009 11:08 AM
PEMBROKE PINES FL

I am at school right now for PTA and i looked into the bridge program in Ohio, since the only other one is in CA. well it said that to get into the bridge progrm i still need a bachelors, so i looked into getting a bachelors at some of the colleges in my city and they said it would take 3-3.5 years to get it if i was going full time. then the bridge program which is 3 years only on weekends. so it would still be at least 6 years before i could be a PT. so maybe it's only on the weekends, but that's still six years. I guess it is alright if you already have a bachelors, and you live in Findlay, Ohio or wherever, California.

Laura Denslinger, SPTA April 23, 2009 8:39 PM
Erie PA

I agree whole-heartedly!

M Ramirez, PTA April 21, 2009 12:01 AM
NY

I have been a PTA for 25+yrs, the APTA does not support PTA's, and PT's do not either. Their concern was to develope a masters and doctorate program, not a transitional program for PTAs. I recommend get in a position that pays well, and where you do not have to deal with the PT's with the masters/doctorate degrees, as they feel that you are basically overpaid techs. I wonder if PTA's had a strike , how the PTs would deal with it. Do not join the APTA it does not protect your interests just theirs. Other two year degrees are treated with more respect then we are and look at our counter part, even OT's show more respect for COTAs the PT do for PTAs.

Bobbie Abbott April 19, 2009 1:03 PM
White Springs FL

YES, we need a transition program from PTA to PT.  

In  the Nashville area , where I am, if you are a COTA you can go back to school and 2 yrs later you are an OT !!  Why can't we have a program for PTA's.  I am shocked to see  that the  APTA has  not seen the giant gap between an Associate degree and  the PHD separating PTA's from PTs and if we don't fill this gap other disciplines will.  

Soon enough you will have athletic trainers working in hospitals etc.

Plus, there will not be enough PTs to feel the void.  Not many people can efford to get a Dr's degree or just don't want to go to school for that long.

Bottom line is, let's create a bridge program to feel the gap!!  We don't want it to be like the 80's again, were  50% of the PT's were from overseas,  due to high demand and not enough PT's

(ps: Overseas PTs will come with a BS only, and they can do a superb job also!!! )

Foot note, I am from Brazil !  :)

DAVID AGUIARE, ACUTE CARE - PTA, TRISTAR HOSPITALS April 16, 2009 5:29 PM
HENDERSONVILLE TN

Once while discussing our profession with a P.T. I was astonished as I heard this "professional," say that the P.T.A., position was for frustrated house wives.  I wonder how prevalent this attitude is today.  It may be that there are those within the ranks of the A.P.T.A., that have this feeling.  It seems to me that if one uses the model of "evidence based practice," that the P.T.A., as a profession has no further R.O.M. Because by the A.P.T.A.'s in-action, as it relates to providing the political will to effect the development of bridge programs, that indeed  one may surmise the A.P.T.A., is happy- right where we belong.   Unfortunately nothing will change until we as interested consumers of higher education, as a group, make a case to the boards of colleges that there is an untapped market here.  I have talked to the Dean of a local college about developing a bridging program.  The response I received was basically that there was no will to develop such a program.  In the back of my mind I have to think, that perhaps politically,  it isn't for the well being of any school to propell the the P.T.A. to P.T.

Doug, P.T.A. April 13, 2009 10:58 PM
Clearlake CA

Twenty years ago I had applied at several PT schools. With over 400 applicants and 20 seats in most schools my chances were slim and was placed on alternate lists. I then proceeded and applied to PTA school and started the program immediately. After 20 years and hundreds of hours of continuing education courses, seminars etc.  sharpening my skill level in order to offer the best quality of treatment I can provide my clients leaves me with no real change in career mobility. Currently PTAs have such limitations my question is why have a license and a 2 year program. One such restriction is PTAs are not allowed( at least in IL) to make any recommendations or suggestions upon a home assessment, only a PT can make recommendations. PTAs can gather data but can not make any comments to the client if the commode is too low to transfer or the banister needs to be repaired.This apparently is out of the scope of PTA practice. A personal trainer with no healthcare experience, license or educational degree has less restraints and a wider scope of practice  by having the laxity and ability to provide  initial assessements, set goals, make recommendations and initiate exercise programs and not all clients of Persoanl trainers are in the best physical state.  I love what I do. I don't believe there is a finer profession, however because of lack of mobility, lack of professional advancement lack of support of developing more than 2 PTA-PT programs in the U.S., I am pursuing other career options that will allow someone with drive and passion to make a difference and advance professionally.

Bill April 10, 2009 9:34 AM
IL

Change can happen if we can get together as a profession.  In Pa. PTA's can now treat with indirect supervision.  A small step but a step in a good direction.  I think we can make changes, we just have to make ourselves heard. If the colleges can see a transitional program as a lucrative investment they would provide it.  Now the APTA supporting it is another issue.

Robert F., PT - PTA April 7, 2009 9:21 AM
NY NY

I came into the PT profession 22 years ago; lack of transitional options was an issue then as now.  Perhaps we are looking to the wrong entity for change.  Maybe we should be speaking to the Board of the American Association of Community Colleges, asking them for what steps we can take to facilitate nationwide PTA-PT transitional programs.

I interviewed a man who was Chairman of the Board of the American Association of Community Colleges.  This Washington, D.C., based association is the largest higher education organization in America, representing nearly 1200 member two-year colleges and 12 million students.  During his term he was a catalyst for two-year colleges nationwide examining how to improve relationships among the three sectors of the educational system:  K-12, 2 year colleges, and universities.  His comment was this, “As a nation we focus on improving the K-12 system.  Two-year colleges and universities focus on improving their own sectors.  We need to come together to develop joint programming that closes the gaps between the sectors and provides a seamless transition for the students.”

In my years in the profession hearing complaints of and reading articles about the lack of options for PTAs, I never once heard about this organization.  Maybe we have seen no forward movement in this arena because we've been barking up the wrong tree.  Or maybe we've been barking at no tree at all, just barking because we didn't know there was a tree to bark at.  

The Board of the American Association of Community Colleges may not be the answer.  But from what I know, it is a potential answer our profession has never pursued.  Which makes it a place worth exploring.

Janey Goude April 6, 2009 8:53 AM

I agree with everyone regarding PTA's  inability to advance their career. I have been a PTA for 10 years, and I want to advance my career in this field, however, I don't see that happening in the near future.  I went back to school and got my bachelor's degree in business, hoping that would give me an advantage to further my career.  I am in search of a different career due to lack of advancement for PTA's. We need a transitioning program from PTA to PT.. we need one developed now to fill the massive demand for PT's!

Mylin Esguerra, IL-Outpatient - PTA April 6, 2009 1:37 AM
Corpus Christi TX

It's surprising to me after being out of school for 13 years now. That new grad P.T.'s still think that P.T.A.'s with experience are over stepping our bounds by using skills taught to us by other P.T.'s or from continuing edcuation courses. Should we not know more with this amount of experience?

Amy Flock, , P.T.A. Lakeview Speciality Hosp April 4, 2009 5:26 PM
Waterford WI

Why is it that other health professions can transition into higher degrees without starting all over.  If CNA's and OTA's have transitioning programs to further there education, then why can't PTA's?

Loan, PTA

Warwick, RI

Loan, PTA April 3, 2009 8:37 AM
Warwick RI

Lisa:

Thank you so much for broaching this very pertinent topic.  I have been an LPTA for 19 years and recently added C-SLPA to my alphabet soup title.  My PTA class of 24 included 5 of us pre-therapy bachelor's degree-holders who applied to P.T. school one time, didn't gain entrance to the program, then opted for the PTA program.  Transition programs are limited, costly, and not feasible for those not living in the 2 states which provide the programs.  I also agree that the APTA has moved forward with P.T. credentialing but left the PTA out in the cold (as many of my fellow PTA's left the field in the early 1990's because we felt as if that process was already in the works).  

Patients and families just want to get well so respect from this group is not an issue, but advancement in the field has been for many years.  I would appreciate your perspective on the next step toward rectifying this situation and including APTA Legislative staff in the discussion.

jeneane douglas, P.T./Speech & Lang. - LPTA, C-SLPA, B.S., Easter Seals March 30, 2009 10:21 PM
Salem OR

I am astonished that more PTA's don't come forward and complain about the PTA's inability to further their degrees with as much ease as the PT's are allowed!  I have been a PTA for 15 years and I refuse to start all over academically.  And for what?  To learn how to evaluate and test patients?  Yeah, that takes 4-6 years!  Please!  So lets bring in more foreign PT's to fill the openings and keep holding the PTA's back!  Enough is enough, let us PTA's proceed and exceed!  Preferrably all the way to DPT please!

Beth, Phy. Therapy - PTA, IMA March 30, 2009 1:07 PM
Fort Myers FL

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