I have been a Physical Therapy Aide for about a year and a half now and my working experience has been quite interesting so far! Fortunately, the job fits well with my personality: I am a fast learner, I work well in a team setting, and I genuinely want to help other people. From working with patients and interacting with my coworkers, I am constantly learning something new every day that I am at the clinic. Although I don’t plan to work as an aide for the rest of my life, this job gives me practice and experience of working in a physical therapy setting, a career I happily choose for myself because it is rewarding in many ways!
Although I could go on and describe why I chose PT (another post for a different day, folks), this post is to describe some truths that most, if not all PT Aides know. I can’t speak for every aide, but these truths are pretty relatable, if I do say so myself! Here’s my 10 realities of working as a PT aide:
1. You’ll Get Out of Your Shell Quickly
One of the first things I noticed about working as an aide is how quickly I was able to socialize with people I don’t know. Generally, I’m a quiet person and I’ve gotten a lot better at voicing my opinions since undergrad. The truth is that PT Aides must be able to socialize with strangers (with professional intent, to be explained later). If you’re the quiet and reserved type and want to pursue physical therapy, work on your social skills now. You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you don’t know how to speak with patients and coworkers, the chances of building rapport are slim because people won’t trust you.
A good and easy way to start a conversation with a new patient is to introduce yourself, ask how they are feeling, and ask about their day. It’s really that simple because it has the potential to neutralize an awkward situation while forcing you to speak at the same time.
2. Learning to read people is KEY
This goes hand in hand with being able to interact with patients and coworkers. Reading body language, tone, and word choice helps in being able to tell when a patient needs more encouragement or if a patient doesn’t need encouragement. If a patient is known to be particularly difficult, often times in my experience, the therapist will let you know before sending you to work with said patient. Or other times, if you are the first person that the patient sees after being brought back, the therapists will find it helpful if you tell them how their patient is doing.
3. Building rapport with patients is a life skill
A big outcome that I’ve learned:
Social Skills + Empathy & Compassion = A SOLID foundation for building Rapport
Rapport is defined as “a good understanding of someone and being able to communicate with them well.” And the foundation to having social skills, being empathetic, and having compassion is to be a good, honest person. Kindness also goes a long way because it helps build trust. Being able to recognize and own up to your own mistakes is not only important in building rapport, but it allows you to be true with yourself and can perhaps make you a better person and clinician in the future.
4. Some patients will mistake your kindness for something else
Okay, so you know how I said that it’s important to be able to interact with patients (with professional intent)? I’m explaining it now. So first, I’ll tell you of the time where the meme above rang true to me one day (with a few changes).
During one shift, I was working with a patient that I’ve worked with before. I never encountered any problems; we got along well and he did all his exercises. This day was no different, so it came as a surprise to me when he asked me for my number at the end of his appointment. As soon as he asked that, I felt like how Chrissy Teigen looked in the meme. I felt uncomfortable and what he did was unprofessional. You should also know that I wear my emotions on my sleeve very well, so you best believe that he saw how I felt. I explicitly said “No, I don’t give my number to strangers and this is very inappropriate.” He ‘understood’, apologized, and left. Immediately after, I reported the incident to a therapist and the patient never scheduled an appointment.
The moral of this story is to keep a professional relationship with patients and don’t ever afraid to voice your feelings about situations that don’t make you feel safe. Sexual harassment and misogyny in the workplace is a very real issue and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. No one deserves to work in a hostile environment, so let’s advocate for safety and peace of mind for ourselves and each other.
5. You WILL make mistakes…
It is inevitable, especially when you are first starting out. Some mistakes I made when I first started working as an aide include: forgetting to turn on a Gameready machine, not putting enough layers on hot packs, putting on a gait belt wrong, etc.
6. …but you WILL learn from them!
You are always being watched by your peers in the workplace, whether you are aware of it or not. This welcomes the interaction of coworkers correcting you of how to properly demonstrate an exercise to a patient to having your back and setting a timer if you forget to. Honestly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is better to ask a therapist or other aide about proper form for a certain exercise than to assume that your way is the right way because a patient could injure themselves further if they have improper form. Learning from your mistakes is essential in being a better person in the future!
7. You’ll be surrounded by endless workout inspiration
As an aide, the main job is to teach exercises to patients and make sure they complete their exercise program with proper form. You act as the patient’s coach during their appointment and you must understand that the success of their recovery depends on if they do their exercises (hence the name therapeutic exercise). Often, I will do some of the exercises that some patients do at home on my own. Since I work in an outpatient setting, the patient population is extremely diverse in terms of types of injury and type of exercise program. Some exercises that I started doing include:
- Sidelying clams with a resistance band
- Resisted side steps
- Upper Trunk Rotations
8. You’ll change your style & make a uniform
There are more style options involved in clinic attire in an outpatient setting because unlike inpatient settings such as hospitals, we are not required t wear scrubs. Aside from the casual Fridays at the clinic I work at, I don’t wear jeans to work. Instead, my work ‘uniform’ consists of:
- Cropped pants (mine are from Loft)
- Polo shirts
- Our clinic t-shirts
- Nice blouse/top
- Plain t-shirts
If you decide to work as a PT Aide, it is important to choose clothing pieces that are comfortable and that don’t restrict movement. If your pants have pockets, then it is probably clinic appropriate; just don’t wear leggings!
9. Finding the perfect pair of work shoes will be your life goal
When I was a student observer, I wore flats for most of my observations. Man was that the wrong choice! If you insist on wearing flats, invest your money in a pair of flats that have enough support. The best shoes to wear would be running shoes or sneakers, basically any type of closed toe shoes that you can spend the whole day standing in are your best bet!
10. Sometimes you might even get free PT treatment
This is definitely one of the pros of working as an aide! If there is down time at the clinic and a therapist wants to practice a new mobilization technique, they often go to aides as their practice patients. Some mobilizations I’ve had done on me were my neck and thoracic spine.
So that’s my work life in a nutshell! There isn’t a certification process that aides have to go through, but most either have a bachelors degree or are currently in the process of earning one. We are trained on the job. In addition to making sure patients do their exercises, PT aides help guide patients to and from the therapy area of the clinic, set patients up on modalities, wash linens, and do clerical tasks such as scheduling and inputting exercise programs for patient files. Because of the job description, we facilitate the flow and atmosphere of the clinic, along with the PTs, PTAs, and front office employees of course! If you have any questions about my experience, let me know!
Cheers to a great weekend!