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Tanya Dutton

When I first began my physiotherapy (PT) career, I worked in a clinical area with a wonderful physiotherapist assistant (PTA).  We hadn’t learned much about this role in school and I wasn’t quite sure what I could assign to this person. Wasn’t I supposed to be able to do all of this stuff myself?  If I didn’t do that stuff, then what was I supposed to be doing?  How could I trust that this person really knows what they are doing?  What did they know?

Much to do

A lot has changed since I began my career so many years ago. Education and training of physiotherapy assistants has also grown leaps and bounds.

There are more educational programs for PTAs across the country than there are for PTs. In Atlantic Canada alone, there are at least six physiotherapist assistant programs, and only one physiotherapist academic program at Dalhousie University.

Accreditation of these PTA programs is well in gear.  The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) is making real strides in recognizing and welcoming PTAs into the Association.

And there is still much to do.

Many still don’t understand what a PTA can do and how they can actually help a PT work to full scope!

Regulation of PTAs across provinces is a hot topic.  Funding for the work PTAs do in the private sector is poorly established across the country; employment opportunities within the private sector may be more limited than the public sector.

Many still don’t understand what a PTA can do and how they can actually help a PT work to full scope!

An incredible extension

With those challenges come great opportunities to grow the physiotherapist assistant profession.  We have an opportunity to grow together.

With consistent standards being applied to their education and training, we can now better understand and apply a consistent set of skills and competencies expected from PTAs.

Did you know that physiotherapist assistants receive extensive training in anatomy and functional anatomy?

Their training goes well beyond normal human movement, a competency often found within the kinesiology graduates, but extends from the normal into pathology and disease processes.

Did you know that physiotherapist assistants can, under the supervision of the physiotherapist, do almost all of the implementation of physiotherapy intervention?

Limits include assessment, treatment planning and discharge, and usually exclude post-graduate skills like as acupuncture and manual therapy.

Provincial licensing colleges also have slight differences in what PTAs can do, so it is always wise to check in with them to ensure the proper boundaries are being kept.

What an incredible extension of the PT’s ability to provide care to their clients; what a potentially great partnership in the delivery and advocacy for physiotherapy to patients, families and the team!

The way forward

There’s a catch, though. The way this “incredible extension” can be realized is through PTs and PTAs develop trust and understanding with each another.

PTs need to understand the unique skills PTAs bring to the table. Yes, there will be variances from assistant to assistant and also the patient population they treat.

PTAs need to know both their professional scope of work and their own individual scope of work; what they are comfortable doing and what they have or have not done before.

Both PTs and PTAs have a professional (i.e. what their role can do) and individual scope of practice (what you as an individual have expertise and comfort in doing). When working with a PTA, it’s important to consider factors like patient acuity, predictability, one’s skills and the practice setting.

But there’s no question about it: working with a PTA will enhance how a PT can work.

“Stealing jobs”?

Interestingly enough, there has been discussion and debate about whether ‘physiotherapist assistants will steal physiotherapist jobs’.  I’ve been a practitioner and educator for years, and I’ve been challenged by other PTs making that claim.  What is interesting is that these same practitioners still hire people to assist them in their clinic or workplace! However, the ‘hired people’ are often ‘untrained’ staff – students or someone with no formal training in physiotherapy.

I often wonder: how does hiring someone with no physiotherapy skills and training reflect the required skills and knowledge to deliver physiotherapy treatment?

If someone ‘off the street’ can deliver physiotherapy, what does it say to our practice, and to others (and funders and the government), about the expertise that is physiotherapy?

Throughout my 25-year physiotherapy career, I have worked with, hired, mentored, taught, problem solved and worked clinically alongside many wonderful physiotherapist assistants.

They have been collaborators, creative problem solvers, challengers and friends.   PTAs are key to the present delivery of physiotherapy services.

We have area lot of ground to cover in delivering health care and physiotherapy to Canadians.  Growing in our profession collaboratively is critical to supporting the future of physiotherapy in Canada.


Tanya Dutton

Relates most to Anger character from movie Inside Out.  Impassioned (ie rants) about most things, including physiotherapist assistants. Believes in the power of interprofessional teams and setting the conditions for individuals (people and disciplines) to flourish.

CPA is inviting members to celebrate PTA Day on Thursday May 12th.  Take the time to recognize the contributions of your PTA and say Thank You!  Check out our toolkit.



Love you article. Very well written.


I am a PTA who has been working in the field for the last 14 years.  I have worked in many different sectors and I must say that for the most part the Phsytiothearpist I have worked with have been amazing and mentoring.   So much to the point that if I wasn't married with 2 children, I'd uproot my life and complete my Education to become a PT. 


I have only ever worked with 1 physiotherapist who has be littled me to the point that I wasn;t sure I wanted to be PTA anymore.  Lucky for me, our new PT has a different outlook and challenges us as well as lets us challenges ourselves and him at times. 


I thank you for your article and for having a high opinion of PTA's as I do PT's!!. 



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