When it comes down to it, it can be a long haul to become a physiotherapist in Canada.
Whether you\’re an internationally trained physiotherapist awaiting Canadian licensing or a physiotherapy student working through the Master’s program, you might be looking for additional opportunities within the field, to help you build your skill set as you go along. And making a little extra income is never a bad thing (am I right?).
When we break it down, the field of Rehabilitation Medicine is huge! There are so many different professions and niches, the majority of them requiring specialized diplomas and degrees. But there are also a lot of opportunities to build transferable experience in supportive roles. Although there are many differences between the roles and responsibilities of a physiotherapist and a supportive position, working in treatment environments, interacting with patients, and learning more about the diversity within the field, will help you as you begin your career as a physio.
Keep reading to get an idea of the supportive roles you might be interested in and the 6 key transferable skills they will help you gain. By reading this article you’ll also get a better appreciation for the wide variety of different environments you may work in and tips for where to focus your job search.
The Opportunities Are Endless
So where should I start? Arguably, the most common supportive position that you might consider will be a physical therapist assistant (PTA). Simply put, in this role you’ll assist in the delivery of physiotherapy services, ensuring they are delivered in a safe, effective, efficient manner, under the direction and supervision of a registered physiotherapist1.
Ok, seems like a simple place to start, but have you considered the different treatment environments where PTA’s can work? When you first start to think about PTA jobs, your scope may be quite narrow: acute care hospitals. But in reality, anywhere you can imagine a physiotherapist working, you can bet a PTA position is often available. Here’s a list of just a few settings you should consider:
- Private physiotherapy practice: generalized and specialized
- Hospitals: acute, subacute and rehabilitation care
- Hospice care
- Community home care
- Long term care facilities
- Schools with child development programs
- Community health centres
- Business/ industry work sites
- Medical equipment suppliers
- Educational institutions like universities and colleges
Another area where you may be able to put your experience to use is in the role of a research assistant. Typically employed by college, university or research institutes, research assistants are hired to help conduct academic research.
The Top 6 Skills Developed Working in the Field
Working as a PTA or research assistant isn’t just a way to bulk up your resume. These are opportunities to gain clinically specific skills you can put towards your career as a physiotherapist.
I can tell you from my own experience working as both an assistant in a private physio clinic during my undergraduate degree and as a research assistant during grad school, these opportunities allow you to build confidence and help you confirm that you’ll enjoy a career in rehabilitation. They will also allow you to build your skills in these 6 areas:
- Therapeutic Relationship
- Exercise Prescription
- Professional Development
Both physiotherapists and support assistants communicate with patients and clients daily. Each position requires confidence and competency in your ability to engage patients in a professional and clear manner. You must encourage questions, answer them to the best of your ability and/or search for an appropriate source of information when outside of your scope of practice. They also each play an important role in educating the general populace on health and physical activity.
Communicating in a clinical environment can be intimidating and while some naturally excel with this, others may require more practice. As a PTA you’ll gain practice interacting with patients, directing them, answering their questions and providing education on a daily basis.
2. Therapeutic Relationship
Research confirms time and time again that a positive patient rapport goes a long way in achieving positive patient outcomes. When patients trust you, feel you are being empathetic and are listening, the more likely they are to experience positive treatment outcomes. Think about it this way, if a patient trusts you’re working in their best interest, the more likely they are to attend treatment and actively participate.
Working as an assistant allows you a great opportunity to work on establishing good patient rapport while you work one on one with patients over the course of their treatment.
3. Exercise prescription
As a PTA part of your job duties will be to implement a treatment plan prescribed by your supervising physiotherapist. Depending on the setting you are in, treatment plans may include exercise instruction, ambulation programs, modality set-ups, etc. But no matter the specific intervention, it takes practice to give instructions, demonstrate, observe and progress a patient\’s program safely.
It doesn’t matter what profession you are in, healthcare involves paperwork. And just like communicating verbally, improving your written communication and writing good chart notes takes time. As both a PTA and research assistant, you’ll become more confident in the organization, clarity and specificity of your charting. You will also gain experience reviewing notes made by other healthcare team members and understanding how they may impact your job.
Another hot topic of research at the moment is how interdisciplinary health teams impact patient outcomes. And while the research points towards their positive influence across the board, it doesn’t mean that it’s easily attainable for clinicians. Depending on the team, it can be challenging to work with others. And navigating different personalities, understanding and appreciating the contributions of others can take time.
Working directly with a supervisor and other healthcare professionals in a clinical or research setting is a great stepping stone to develop your ability to work as a team member.
6. Professional development
One thing that has struck me throughout my academic and now professional career, is how providing and accepting constructive feedback can be tough. No one likes to hear that they’re doing something wrong! But to accept feedback, reflect upon it and positively change your practice is required to develop as a professional. And lifelong learning is essential to being a physiotherapist, so you better get used to it now.
Engaging in courses, inter-departmental in-services, and/or mentorship activities while working as an assistant are all great ways to begin working towards your professional development.
Tips for Your Job Search
Now that we’ve discussed the variety treatment environments and skills that you can gain working as a PTA and research assistant, let’s talk about the job search. Like most professions, the most readily accessible place to search for openings is online.
Take a look at:
- The National Physiotherapist Assistant Assembly
- University and College Career Centres
- Provincial Physiotherapy and Physiotherapy Assistant Associations
- Online job boards like the Government of Canada job bank
And consider this, just like the titles physiotherapist and physical therapist are used interchangeably, there are many ways supportive roles in rehab med might be advertised. If your job searches aren’t yielding the results you had hoped, try searching these other titles:
- Rehab assistant
- Physiotherapist aid
- Physiotherapist attendant
- Restorative care aid
- Therapist assistant
I hope this article has opened your eyes to the many opportunities available in the field of rehab. Good luck in your search!