PTA SIG e-Newsletter - March 2021

PTAs are active in a wide range of professional pursuits outside of the traditional clinical role. Doug Slick, a PTA from Pottstown, did a deep dive into this discussion, fueled by the results of a nation-wide survey.

PTAs Outside Their Clinical Practice Roles

by Doug Slick, PTA

Everyone reading this will be aware that Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) practice under the direction of Physical Therapists (PTs). Today I’d like to discuss with you the myriad of positions PTAs hold and the wide-ranging endeavors they pursue outside of their traditional clinical roles.

Many PTAs responded to a poll I conducted and even more posted to my query on a national Facebook PTA group. I explained that I was writing this article and I was shamelessly mining my social media for raw data regarding PTAs in leadership roles outside their expected job duties.

Some interesting data points just to get us started:

64% of respondents are APTA members
One member, Russell Stowers, proudly touted a 31-year history with the association

36% said they had to earn an additional degree to accomplish their goal

Less than eight percent said they had planned this pathway from the beginning, the remainder responded with comments indicating a mix of “tumbled into it” and “wanted to grow and develop but had no idea where it would lead.” One PTA stated, “Completely serendipitous! And the best opportunity I could have ever stumbled into, unbelievably fulfilling”

Greater than 85% noted some resistance from co-workers or administration with regard to their status as a PTA during pursuit of, or while executing their role outside the clinical norm. Some reported significant opposition. One sighing, “I feel like I always have to battle.”

Only seven percent of the respondents felt the profession encourages PTAs to seek leadership roles. Other responses varied, this one by PTA Caucus Chief Delegate, David Harris, being typical, “I think the profession encourages leadership but it’s up to us to step up to the plate and gain our seat at the table”

Let’s look at some examples of the types of outside-the-clinic positions PTAs hold.

Russell Stowers has been the Director of Rehab Services 13 years with a staff of 70. Before that, he was Program Director for a PTA degree program.

Douglas Stoddart volunteered, “Started out as a staff PTA. Decided I would like to move up into a leadership role so took classes that were offered through work. I took every opportunity I could. I moved up to Senior Therapist, then to Supervisor of PT and finally worked with administration to create the Associate Rehab Director position”

Jodi Hinger shared, “I began as PTA in SNF. Moved into SNF Backup DOR position. Then obtained Hospice Administrator-in-Training position. Currently Hospice Mobile Assistant-Administrator pursuing BS in Business Administration to move into Mobile Administrator position”

Josh Weidner relates, “Nine in years on operational side of patient care led to a position as an applications coordinator overseeing the entire rehab departments EHR with the Epic platform”

Here are a handful of comments from folks whose permission I did not obtain to credit by name:

“DOR - unemployed after COVID, only job available”

“I co-own a PT practice with two PTAs and one PT... we have been in business 23 years with five offices”

“I am the Clinic Director of an industrial rehab clinic. We have two PT, two PTAs, one OT and one COTA”

“I have served as an FSBPT Item Writer in the past. I also serve as a group leader for Autism on the Seas.”

“I have been a guest speaker to community groups and organizations regarding wellness. Also created a Lymphedema program in my community.”

“I run a behavioral program for the SNF that I’ve worked in for the last 13 years. I’m a unit manager for my floor dealing with mental issues.”

“I am a PTA and I have worked as a rehab director for several different companies. While I am currently a PTA, I do hold a bachelor's degree and come from a corporate management background. I Believe that there are many PTAs that like myself have had other careers before becoming a PTA.”

This is only a small representation of the vast number of life stories that were shared with me. In order for this article to ever see the light of day, we’ll stop here!

A well-known theme within the ranks of PTAs is that it is often a second career with helpful life skills carried over from previous experience. Many respondents seemed to have tapped into those resources as they moved into leadership positions.

Many have pursued subsequent degrees in business, people-management, etc, instead of a DPT. They had goals that would not have been served by a DPT and their focus was laser-like.

I frequently speak to high-school students who are considering physical therapy as a career. I always point out to them that the setting and the day-to-day experience can vary drastically in our profession. I propose the PTA career is a concentric circle within the greater circle of physical therapy, offering a similar vast array of opportunity and reward.