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Life of a PTA

On the Job Training

Published July 18, 2014 3:27 PM by Allison Young

I have found there are a few skill sets PTAs might find useful in their careers that are not covered in the PTA program curriculum. The techniques relate mostly to skilled nursing PT, as that's been my setting since I graduated, but can certainly translate to home health or inpatient/acute physical therapy.

The first and most often demonstrated (during my typical day) is toilet transfer training. I would also include bedside commode (BSC) transfer under this skill. Perhaps due to occupational therapy's ownership of bathroom ADLs of all kinds, this particular transfer was never discussed in class. That's just my theory and I'm probably completely off the mark (side note: I love OTs!). As it turns out, I perform toilet transfers multiple times a day to work toward a safer, functional transfer. Quite often, the primary PT will set a toilet or BSC t/f as one of the patient's short-term goals.

Speaking of transfers not discussed in PTA school: car transfers. Again, here is a functional transfer I regularly include in therapy sessions that involve the patient and family/friends. Typically everyone involved is eager to learn and motivated since the result is the patient's increased safety and independence (and ability to leave the facility -- which is a huge incentive for them).

Last but certainly not least, wheelchair management training. Although we did indeed have thorough training in wheelchair fitting in class, I was never taught how to adjust the brakes, attach anti-tippers or raise/lower the wheel height. All of which I've had to learn and perform on almost a daily basis. Disclaimer: both SNF rehab departments I've worked in did not employ a rehab aide who could also perform these maintenance services. However, I find knowing how a wheelchair is constructed and can be modified only makes me a better clinician for my patients. Not to mention, sometimes I'm the only person there to fix it.

Let's face the facts: On-the-job training post-PTA program profoundly trumps the basic skills you learn in school. An accredited PTA program offers a stunning amount of information in a concise, accelerated time frame. I still recall my instructor stating that it was impossible to teach us every skill we'll require for our patients and he was absolutely right, of course. But a few extra optional labs in the handicap-accessible bathrooms might've been beneficial.

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1 comments

I would add that the biggest skill not covered, even lightly, in PTA school is interpersonal relations. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you cannot connect with your patients, if you cannot find commonality, you might as well just be a recording of exercise routines. Physical therapy is about connecting, inspiring and getting to that place where the patient wishes to improve and work toward the goals. Some are self-motivated, but others need to feel like they are important, being listened to and are cared about. The setting I work out is a SNF, but we also have a good outpatient practice and have a contract for rehab with the area hospital. It is diverse and as such we see a wide range of patients. Learning how to connect with that diversity is not only important but valuable to the success of the treatment program. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Michael, SNF - PTA, KNR-Weiser July 19, 2014 9:25 AM
Weiser ID

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