Student Profile: Physical Therapy Assistant

Learn about physical therapy assistant school from a student’s perspective.

Mickey Marggraf
Physical Therapy Assistant Student
Green River Community College – Auburn, WA

Why did you choose to become a physical therapy assistant?

I’ve always been physically active and intrigued by the sciences. I have a BA in physical education, and I worked in the schools for ten years.

I wanted to get back into sports rehab, so I got a job as an aide in a clinic and then studied physical training at the American College of Sports Medicine. After that I did a lot of fitness assessment testing.

My old boss offered me a 2-year scholarship to study physical therapy assisting, and I signed a 4-year contract to work for him after I finish. So now I’m where I need to be. I love working in patient care and helping people achieve their goals so they can have a quality life.

How did you choose a school?

There’s only one physical therapy assistant college that’s close enough to commute to; it’s an hour each way. We have a student carpool so we can support each other and study in the car. There are students who travel 4 hours a day to do this program.

It’s a 2-year academic program. For some, it might take 3 or 4 years if they need to take prerequisites to get into the physical therapy assistant program. People need to have communication, speech, English, math, anatomy, basic prerequisites.

What types of things do you learn?

We study kinesiology, neurology, neuroanatomy. We learn about the whole life span, from birth to death. We study assistive devices, like wheelchairs, canes, prostheses. We study all the modalities of physical therapy. Now we’re taking therapeutic exercise and physical restoration. Then there’s issues in health care, which cover the legal aspects of working in the field.

What do you enjoy most about your program?

The teachers. Their knowledge base is incredible. They all want you to succeed. I like applying the skills, the hands-on work in the labs. I’m a kinesthetic learner; I like things I can touch and see and feel. That, to me, is the most gratifying. We have practicals that give us experience we can use in real settings. We have to take real problems and analyze them and perform the appropriate therapy for it.

The internships are very helpful. We do two 1-week clinicals early in the second year. In the spring before we graduate we do two 6-week clinicals, one in an inpatient setting and the other outpatient.

How difficult is it to work and attend school?  

The first and second quarter I worked a little bit, teaching in an assisted living facility, teaching senior fitness. By spring quarter I had to give everything up. Now I teach just one hour a week, which isn’t much but keeps me connected with the senior population I like to work with. I have a 5-year-old daughter, and many of the students are parents. It’s hard, but it’s doable. I get a lot of support from my family, especially my husband.

What are job opportunities like for graduates?

Last year’s graduating class all had at least three job offers apiece! When you do the physical therapy assistant clinicals, you show what your talents are, and those can lead to job offers. These jobs have full benefits, medical and dental coverage, and opportunities for continuing education.

What do you enjoy most about the hands-on work you do?

Seeing a patient through a plan of care that leads them to a greater quality of life. It’s great to see someone feel better and perform their activities of daily living. Pain causes depression, and when you can ease the pain, people feel much better. In a nursing home, just to have someone sit up on her bed and put her hands in her lap can be a huge success. I’m interested in working with the geriatric population.

What type of personality will do well as a physical therapy assistant?

You need compassion, a desire to work with people and help them. It’s not about you, it’s about the other person and what you can do to help them achieve their goals. You have to be patient. You have to continually want to educate yourself, not be complacent, but go beyond the expectations.

This journey is long and hard, but it’s attainable for anyone. If this is your passion in life, continue to pursue it, no matter how old you are. I’m excited, I wouldn’t do it otherwise.

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