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Life of a PTA

The 18-Year-Old PTA

Published August 15, 2014 4:54 PM by Allison Young

During the first week of PTA school, our director announced that the median age of the class was 33.5 years old. We students, spanning from age 20-55, had come from all walks of life. I remember a few fellow classmates had just received BS degrees from 4-year colleges and others were entering physical therapy as a fourth or fifth job incarnation.

This age breakdown discussion was completed with my director announcing that "within a few years" the program would include 18-year-old students. His prophecy was correct and an 18-year-old did enter the program within the following year's cohort.

How can one graduate from an accredited PTA program by the age of 18, you may ask? The same junior college that runs the program also offers a "Running Start" program for high school students that allows them to take general education college courses in lieu of college prep classes at their high school.

Therefore, a studious and focused 16-year-old can earn credits toward an associate's degree as well as her diploma. A 17-year-old student can easily complete the prerequisite courses and apply to the PTA program before she even turns 18.

The question the program director posed to the class, which has been proven over the years since, is the following: Does an 18-year-old PTA have enough life experience or "people skills" to be a successful clinician? As well, will it be more difficult for a younger PTA to secure a job versus another "older" prospected hire?

I like to think a smart, energetic PTA (who also happens to be a teenager) would be a perfect fit for certain PT clinics and facilities. Depending on the clientele, an 18-year-old might be the best choice for the job, bringing youthful energy and enthusiasm. Not to mention their neurons are firing quicker than most (well, at least mine).

Ultimately, the old adage "Live your age, don't act your age" can apply to my young counterparts just as much my patients. I've met more than a few mature and responsible teens, as I have careless and disinterested middle-age folks in the medical profession over the years.

What's your opinion regarding the young and ambitious PTAs graduating today? Would you hire a fresh-faced 18-year-old PTA in your clinic or facility? If you are a "young" PTA, what has your professional experience been like so far? I would love to hear from you!

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I agree that appropriate documentation can be frustrating. However what helps me is referring back to the "skilled" aspect of what I am doing. Building rapport is absolutely necessary in order for good 2 way communication and trust. If you are building rapport by asking people about their interests then apply that to the Goals for the patient. If somebody is planning to return home and has specific interests or needs that have to be addressed by updating the POC with the PT or other interdisciplinary staff then that is part of skilled intervention.

For example: I might document it as discussed goals and POC with patient, addressed patient's goal to visit her brother once a week who has 5 steps to enter his house. Discussed updating LTG to include amb. on outdoor surfaces and stair training with PT. Even though you are building rapport with a patient and talking about different subjects , you can still be objectively planning their care. You can also report your conversation subjectively. For example resident Mrs. S. expresses increased motivation w/ skilled PT activities when discussing her former pets and talking about animals. Discussed resident's interest with recreation staff for inclusion in animal related activities. Then you can document your time as objectively billable and/or keep a record of it as non billable interdisciplinary communication. It is very difficult to break down into parts all of the skilled actions and how they relate to the skilled intervention of the patient. Unfortunately it requires more documentation time which of course puts more productivity pressure on everyone.

Jill Merritt, PTA September 2, 2014 3:36 PM
Teaneck NJ

I agree that the social skills and maturity of an 18 year old PTA would need to be considered on a case by case basis however I'd be concerned about the patient response to someone of that age. I am a third-year DPT student having completed a few clinical rotations and often receive comments from patients about whether I'm "old enough to enjoy an adult beverage" or "old enough  to be in college"'. Despite being in my mid20s I often get mistaken for being much younger, even having been carded for and R-rated movie recently. I noticed that once I told the patient I was older than they originally suspected they seemed  a little less tense and more comfortable with my decision making and plan of care.

Amanda, DPT student August 20, 2014 11:02 PM

I believe it would be a case by case decision. In most cases ,I don't believe a 18 yr old PTA would  have the social skills or maturity to be a excellent PTA. Patients would not find them competent and their short experience in general workforce would hinder them from a business minded stand point. Myself having first a business degree and then a PTA degree, would seek out other applicants if I were looking into hiring someone. I don't believe I would allow a 18 yr old be in charge of a medical facility if the PT was out of the office. I had a 21 yr old in my class and she told me that she didn't know if she was ready to treat patients if she was alone in the clinic. If a 21 year old is not ready would a 18 yr old be ready?

Brooke Hudson, PT - PTA, outpatient/ PRN inpatient August 15, 2014 9:16 PM
Salisbury MD

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