A visit to work with her mom has led to a long-term career for one local physical therapy assistant.
Rhene Baker works at Mesa General Hospital, where she has been employed since last fall. She serves as a physical therapy assistant to patients in the hospital and outpatient services.
Baker’s mom served as a physical therapy tech years ago and Baker went to the office with her one Saturday. She got to know the job and saw the satisfaction of helping others.
“I fell in love with it from that point on. I was 15,” she said. “It’s the feeling of helping someone do something they lost the ability to do. It’s empowering.”
Patients seek physical therapy for a variety of reasons: Illness and injury, recurring pain, or permanent physical disabilities. Those who help them are seeking to improve mobility, relieve pain or prevent further damage.
Baker’s job is to follow the plan of care written by the physical therapist. Her day-to-day duties change, depending on the needs of the patients. She may help someone do stretches or work on the mat or work with weights. She may perform functional stimulation exercises to retrain a muscle or provide cold or hot therapy for a patient.
“It’s never the same. It’s not monotonous. You always have a constant challenge. Our hospital has in-patient, outpatient and acute rehabilitation. We get to travel around and see different types of people in different settings. And we see all age groups,” she said.
Baker did her training at a community college in Kansas City, Mo., and continues to keep updated with classes and reading.
Right now, she said, a physical therapy assistant must hold an associate’s degree. But that is changing and in 2010 a bachelor’s degree will be required. Some programs are already making that change to accommodate students.
Students take classes in interpersonal communication and speech as well as the required English and algebra. Some science courses include anatomy, physiology, medical terminology, neurology and clinical pathology.
According to the Department of Labor Statistics Web site, this field is expected to grow faster than average. And about 60 percent of physical therapy assistants and aides work in hospitals and physical therapy offices.
The median annual earnings of physical therapist assistants were $37,890 in May 2004, the latest statistic available on the Web site.