Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assisting
Physical Therapist Assistant
Cathy Gross has been a physical therapist assistant (PTA), for more than two years, and has been traveling for almost her entire career. As a traveling PTA, Gross has worked in multiple settings throughout the country, such as in-patient care, acute are, wound care, outpatient adult and pediatrics, as well as home health adult and pediatrics. She has also worked in skilled nursing for a brief time. Gross earned an associate degree in PTA from Salt Lake Community College, and has since become licensed in seven different states. In addition, Gross has recently finished up the necessary courses to prepare her for the exam to become a certified Kinesio Taping practitioner, a certification she looks forward to in her career. Her lifelong goal is ultimately to settle down long enough to go to physical therapist school and earn her Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) so she can expand her PT career and become a stronger advocate for PTAs as much-needed healthcare workers.
What made you decide to pursue a major in physical therapist assisting in college?
I originally wanted to go to school to be a physical therapist, but as time went on, I kept changing my major. After a few years, I decided that I needed to pick something and stick with it. Instead of PT school, I took my shot at PTA school.
What was the most fascinating part of your education in physical therapist assisting?
The best part of our school was our free clinic that we got to have. We had a state-of-the-art facility with tons of space, a therapy pool — the whole works. The professors were not there to fail you and make it impossible to pass, but to guide you through the process well, but without holding your hand. Truly a great program. Plus, it was a shorter amount of time because we went to school during the summer so we cut a whole semester out.
What was the most challenging part of the physical therapist assisting major?
The most challenging part of the whole program is the prerequisite class that is all online (super hard) and how fast the program moved. We were learning new material as we were trying study previous material in preparation for a test or practical. Dedication is key to getting through a PTA program, as it does move a lot faster than a PT program.
In what ways do you apply the knowledge you gained in your physical therapist assisting education to your current career?
In school, they try to cover all the basic information about as many conditions as possible. I got the basic tools, and now it is my responsibility to sharpen them and make them better. As a traveler, I have been to many different settings and have had to adapt quickly. If PTA school has taught me one thing, it is to be on your toes! Most people will go through their career picking one setting and adapting their skills to that one setting. I have been in multiple settings, grabbing the bull by its horns and adapting my skills to multiple settings so I have had to use more than just one little section out of school throughout my career.
What important skills did you gain in your PTA education that you use on the job every day?
There are so many skills that you acquire while in school, and no matter how many practicals you go through or how many times you spend practicing on classmates, nothing ever is really going to get you ready for the real thing until you are actually out there practicing. Clinicals, or “working for free,” is where most of those black and white scribbles that cost a lot of money and all the long hours dedicated to studying come in handy and make you realize that there are people in the world with these actual conditions. Professionalism is probably the biggest skill that I had to learn and being able to adapt appropriately to each individual that I treat, whether it is listening and empathizing to high-fiving and lots of encouragement.
Do you have any advice for students who are considering majoring in PTA?
The biggest thing is to stay strong and become a huge advocate in your area as an SPTA. Be confident that you can and will do this job passionately and never fall into a shake-n-bake routine. Stay innovative — keep learning because that is what is going to make sure that our jobs as PTAs are secure, especially with a lot of PTs out there saying we don’t have credibility due to the level of our degree. Always remember the best grades come to people who think outside of the box and who are creative and innovative. Study hard, be passionate, and don’t be afraid to voice your ideas because sometimes those are the best. If you don’t say anything, you won’t know and neither will anybody else.