Hands-On Education, Hands-On Healing: Physical Therapists and Physical Therapist Assistants Are Working to Improve the Quality of Life for Those with Health Problems-And Career and Technical Education Is Working to Improve the Quality of Their Training

By Reese, Susan | Techniques, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Hands-On Education, Hands-On Healing: Physical Therapists and Physical Therapist Assistants Are Working to Improve the Quality of Life for Those with Health Problems-And Career and Technical Education Is Working to Improve the Quality of Their Training


Reese, Susan, Techniques


The healing powers of heat, warm water, sunlight, exercise and massage have long been known, which means that the roots of physical therapy can be traced back to ancient times. However, it did not become fully recognized as a profession until the 20th century, when two World Wars resulted in large numbers of injured patients in need of rehabilitation. The creation in 1921 of the American Physical Therapy Association further established physical therapy as a profession. The organization now represents more than 66,000 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and physical therapy students in the United States.

Today, physical therapists and physical therapist assistants are helping those with health problems resulting from injury or illness to improve their quality of life. Through their educational efforts they are also helping to prevent injuries.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), although a large number of physical therapists work in hospitals, more than 70 percent can now be found in private physical therapy offices, rehabilitation centers, community health centers, nursing homes, home health agencies, corporate or industrial health centers, sports facilities, research institutions, schools, pediatric centers, and colleges and universities. APTA calls physical therapists "respected members of the health care team" as they work with other health care providers such as physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, social workers, speech pathologists and occupational therapists.

Training to become a physical therapist requires both an academic and a clinical education with courses in psychology, biology, physics, chemistry and English. APTA encourages students pursuing a career in physical therapy to enter the profession with a post-baccalaureate degree and says that many colleges and universities are in the process of changing their physical therapy programs from a bachelor's degree to a post-baccalaureate degree.

Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of a physical therapist, assisting in treatment and in teaching patients special exercises and activities. They must complete a two-year program--including one year of general education and one year of technical courses or physical therapy procedures and clinical experience--resulting in an associate's degree.

The accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for programs in physical therapy is the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

A Solid Start at the Secondary Level

At Eastern Technical High School in Baltimore, Md., students receive a comprehensive academic and technical education in a variety of career areas, among them allied health. The school has won a number of awards. In 1997, it was designated a Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, and in 1999, it was named a U.S. Department of Education New American High School. Baltimore Magazine cited Eastern Tech as one of the area's top high schools in 2001.

The allied health program has earned its own honor, being named an Exemplary Secondary Program for 2002 by the National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education. The program was recognized because the industry-based curriculum prepares students for a wide-range of careers in the field, college-prep academic projects are integrated into the allied health content, and career pathways are designed to lead to postsecondary education and skilled employment. There are also student internship designs, rigorous senior projects, dual enrollment with area community colleges, and articulation agreements with two- and four-year colleges.

The Eastern Tech allied health program serves ninth through 12th grade students with a curriculum that includes basic preparation in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, mathematics and related natural sciences. In addition to these basics, however, the program also includes topics such as medical terminology, introduction to health care/medical careers, legal and ethical concerns, first aid, CPR, disease, basic patient care, human development, pain theory and control, pathology, rehabilitative and therapeutic theory and techniques, wellness programming, training and conditioning concepts.

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