Tracy Dignum is the co-coordinator for the Rehabilitation Assistant Diploma Program at Capilao University. I recently spoke with her about therapy assistants and training in Canada.
The assistant programs are two years in length with 500 hours of clinical field work with three placements in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics. Prior to 2004, the programs were one year in length.
"The scope of practice is different for supervision and functions of the assistant. In Ontario a PTA can perform ultrasound but not in British Columbia. Also, assistants are double and sometimes triple trained for PT, OT, SLP, or Recreation Assistants," stated Dignum.
Capilano University has an assistant program with three clinicals which are five weeks in duration. Entrance to the program requires English, Science and volunteer hours. First aid, references, criminal background check, TB test, English placement test, and an oral interview are also required before admission. Classes of 20 students are taught by OTs, PTs and SLPs with the field work being in Canada, England or Australia. Students can ladder into bachelor's degree programs because of articulations with three universities. They will enter year three in a degree program.
The assistants are not a regulated profession [yet] in Canada according to Silvia Elicagaray, custom relations representative for the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. She suggested therapy assistants who are trained in America to contact citizenship and immigration policies and the provincial governments if they want to work in Canada.
Dignum is working on accreditation by working with National Associations for PT and OT and the ACCPAP (an accreditation organization), as well as establishing national standards due to having private colleges still teaching abbreviated programs.
As a PT assistant, I would not mind being cross-trained as an OTA or SLPA. I think the training would be a great benefit to patient care and availability of treatment techniques. One of the benefits of their training is the ability of the assistant to go into a bachelor's degree program as a third-year student. Unfortunately in America, the AAS degrees don't always transfer into four-year degree institutions, but this should change soon.
As the accreditation process develops in Canada, we may see more Canadian assistants in America. I also suggested to Dignum about having some of their assistants come to America to train with us. This could work both ways; we can continue to develop better relations in the therapy community to learn and teach across the borders and with one another.