The job market for physiotherapist assistants is booming in Ottawa right now. More and more people are seeking treatment, and many clinics can’t find enough qualified assistants to keep up with the demand.
That’s why Herzing recently launched a new diploma program for physiotherapist/rehabilitation assistants. It came about as the direct result of consultation with local employers who are starved for staff.
Two of those employers are Mohamed Fouda, clinic manager at Prime Physio Plus, and Jason Verge, owner and clinical director at Stittsville Carp Road Physiotherapy. They’ve both been in the physiotherapy field for more than 25 years, and they are both looking forward to accepting interns from Herzing’s new program.
We caught up with Mohamed and Jason recently to learn more about the role of physiotherapist assistants (PTAs) and find out why there’s such a need for them in the Ottawa area.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Mohamed: I graduated from Cairo University in 1995 and worked as a physiotherapist in Cairo for five years. Then I moved to Kuwait and worked in an orthopedic hospital there for 13 years. I decided I needed a long-term plan for my wife and my children, so I applied to immigrate to Canada as a skilled worker. At the same time, I worked on my credentials to get my licence in Canada. I came for the exams, got my licence, and started work as a physiotherapist.
I worked for a company here for three years, then opened my own practice in 2015. I established my clinic on Alta Vista and Bank. This year I opened a new branch on Carling Avenue, so I have two locations right now.
Jason: I started in the profession in 1994 at a small upstate New York rural hospital as a staff physiotherapist after graduating from Western University in Ontario. I stayed at that hospital until 2000 when I came to the Ottawa area and began working for a number of small independent clinics for a number of years. In 2007 I opened my first clinic, and by 2011 I had two locations. I presently manage our clinic and take care of all the marketing, bookkeeping, and site management.
Q. Could you describe the kind of services your clinic provides?
Mohamed: I work along with a team of physiotherapists, manual osteopaths, massage therapists, chiropractors, and acupuncture specialists.
Jason: At the beginning we had only physiotherapy and registered massage therapy. Over the years we have added and taken away different services. We presently offer physiotherapy, registered massage therapy, psychotherapy, registered dietitians, shockwave therapy, orthotics, and custom bracing.
Q. What responsibilities do assistants in your clinic have?
Mohamed: Assistants can use machines with the patient, supervise the patient while he’s doing exercises, support the patient if he needs help, and other tasks like that.
Jason: As far as patient care goes, our PTAs set up and remove modalities from clients, run clients through exercise programs, and perform certain treatment techniques that they are trained to do at the clinic.
Q. Why are physiotherapist assistants in such high demand?
Mohamed: There is a lot of demand for physio, especially after COVID, when people were quarantined and started to realize the importance of physiotherapy. Also, people are relying more on technology—they are sitting in front of computers and using their phones, and this leads to issues in the neck and shoulder.
So with all of this, there is a huge demand for physio. And of course, a physiotherapist can’t work alone. He needs an assistant to help.
I have students come to me from the physiotherapy assistant program at Algonquin College, but the number of students who graduate from there is not enough to fill the need in the market.
I suggested this program for Herzing College because they used to send me people from their Medical Office Administration program. Those students would intern here, and I was impressed with them. So I approached Herzing about implementing a program for physiotherapy assistants. I thought it would be a great help for the healthcare system.
Jason: In this ever-changing field there is an increasing need to maximize clinic resources, the main one being registered physiotherapists. The old model of a physiotherapist seeing one or two clients an hour is quickly disappearing with the increased financial pressures on clinics (staff salaries, rent, utilities, accounting, legal fees, etc.)
When a clinic employs a well-trained PTA, the physiotherapist can delegate a variety of treatments to them. This allows the physiotherapist to become more time-efficient with their patient schedule and see more clients in the one-hour block.
Q. What are the most important qualities or skills for physiotherapist assistants?
Mohamed: Number one is communication. They need good communication skills to talk to patients and also report to the physiotherapist on the patient’s condition.
Observation skills are also critical. Let’s say the assistant is handling an exercise with a patient who has diabetes and starts to have low blood pressure. If the assistant doesn’t observe that the concentration or performance of the patient is declining, they might continue and make the problem even worse.
Physiotherapist assistants should also understand how to carry out their tasks safely. For example, if a patient has poor balance, the assistant should know to be no more than one arm length away so they could catch the patient if something happened. If the assistant is further away, and they try to catch the patient by grabbing his wrist, they could dislocate the shoulder or strain his wrist. They could also cause serious damage to nerves in the neck. So it’s important to have solid knowledge about patient safety.
Jason: At our clinic, the most important skill that we look for is exercise prescription knowledge. We expect our PTAs to come to us with a solid background in strengthening and stretching protocols with respect to our patient population. They should be able to show, explain, and perform the exercise that the physiotherapists prescribe for the client in their treatment program.
Q. Mohamed, you were the one who approached Herzing about training new PTAs. What is it about Herzing that makes you confident they’ll produce the kind of grads you want to hire?
Mohamed: I judged Herzing by the interns who came here from the MOA program, and they have a strong knowledge background. Herzing has a solid educational system that I trust, so I expect good physiotherapist assistants to graduate from there.
LEARN MORE ABOUT HERZING’S PHYSIOTHERAPIST ASSISTANT PROGRAM
Herzing College Ottawa offers a Physiotherapist/Rehabilitation Assistant program that can prepare you for positions in hospitals, physiotherapy clinics, rehabilitation centres, and other settings.
The program takes just 12 months to complete and includes a six-week internship with a local employer.
Click below to get complete program details and chat live with an admissions advisor. We’re here to help!