Anderson College’s Physiotherapist and Occupational Therapist Assistant (PTA/OTA) program is a second-to-none educational experience, with a track record for preparing graduates to align their passion for supporting and empowering patients in need with a career that is evolving and perpetually in high demand. We had the distinct opportunity to interview our resident expert Shaeba Rizvi and he offers students insights on program structure, requirements, expectations, and what students are most curious about and how to thrive in this program.
After reading this article, you will have all the information you need to make an informed decision about whether becoming a PTA/OTA is for you, and the next steps on how to prepare for, and launch, a career in this field.
With no further adieu, let us introduce Shaeba Rizvi …
What is your background and experience in this field, Shaeba?
In terms of education, I’ve been involved in healthcare since 1992. At that time, I was in my native country of Pakistan, where I entered a medical program. I completed a six-year medical program by ’98, after which I trained in neurology. It was around 2001, during my neurology residency, that I started to notice the benefits of physiotherapy for many of our stroke patients, in cases where medicine and surgery were not successful. Resilient and constant exercise benefited people and they were moving when we thought movement was impossible. That’s when I realized the potential benefits of physiotherapy in helping patients and in 2002 I pursued this field.
Please tell us about Anderson College’s PTA/OTA program?
The PTA/OTA program is a wonderful hybrid diploma program that allows a person the flexibility to work under the supervision of a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist, as an assistant. The assistant is the one who provides most of the treatment. Working under the guidance of a PT or an OT, as an assistant you provide the treatment; the OT or PT provides diagnosis and drives the treatment plan. So, it becomes a good division of labor and allows for an efficient system, where you can spend more time with the patients while treating them.
What can students expect from the program?
Anderson’s PTA/OTA program is designed to cater to students who want to learn the theory and the clinical training to become a PTA and an OTA. The program is 18 months and is both comprehensive and concentrated. We cover a lot of theory in about 14 months. For both PT and OT, we start with the basic sciences learning about the human body and the main systems that work for us, like the muscular system, the skeletal system and nervous system, cardiovascular and respiratory systems of the body, because they’re all related to our physio and occupational therapy fields. After that, we go on to the injuries, diseases and disorders that can affect the body in physiotherapy and occupational therapy patients. The third part of the program is spent talking about the treatment, which involves rehabilitation and both the physiotherapy side and the occupational therapy side and treatment.
The 14 months of theoretical learning is complemented by a student’s opportunity to practice their clinical skills in the classroom. This is followed by four months of placement, where students further refine their clinical skills and training, under physiotherapist and occupational therapists.
The classes run four hours per day and within that timeframe students listen to the discussion, ask questions, and review and revise the materials. If students utilize that time properly, it is enough to get a basic understanding. One to two hours per day additionally spent reviewing and internalizing information covered is extremely beneficial. This program is a health field and therefore covers biology, pathology and treatment etc.., so there’s a lot of information we have to process to be successful in this field.
What questions do new students ask most?
Our student population spans those who are changing careers, people who are raising families and those who have been working in a different career for many, many years, even decades. They range in age from 18 to 70. This prompts the questions, “Can I do this? Can I succeed in this program?”. The answer is very simple, “Yes, you can.” This is because the course is designed for this range of diversity and type of student. My favorite challenge, and my passion, is showing somebody who perhaps thought it very difficult to understand the human body, that it is quite doable and understandable. I find my main reward in teaching is when somebody’s eyes light up because they understand something about the science of the body. This program provides enough time to build a strong foundation. And if you dedicate yourself, then you can learn a lot because we’ve actually packed in about three to four years of information into 14 months. So, it is very intense, but I tell them all you have to do is to have the right attitude. Don’t give up, attend classes, and ask me questions and study one or two hours on the side.
The other question they ask is, “What kinds of jobs can we get after we graduate? What can we expect?” I tell them that during their placement, they should learn about themselves. Socrates said, “Know thyself”, and a lot of cultures and philosophies realize that knowing who you are helps you to know what you like and dislike, and this helps you to know what kind of environment you would be happy working in. I tell them that in choosing healthcare, they’re in a secure field, and will be able to make a good living and have a good quality of life. But even more importantly, you want to put your head down on your pillow at the end of the day, and be satisfied with what you did. This is what gets you up in the morning, happy to go to work. Placements can range from working in a long-term care facility or a retirement home to a private clinic. Test out which environment matches your personality.
What is the difference between a PTA and an OTA?
Occupation actually means anything you do to pass your time. So, everything you do in 24 hours (or your occupation), from sleeping, eating, feeding yourself, grooming yourself, changing your clothes, exercising, to leisure activities and your job. Basically, your entire life, your day-to-day, is involved in occupational therapy.
Physiotherapy helps you to get to maximum functional capacity after an accident, an injury or with a health condition. Physiotherapy helps you get to the maximum health and rehabilitation that is possible.
But if there are lingering permanent problems and disabilities that occur, special needs, then occupational therapy, with the use of devices, will help a patient to be still more functionally independent. So, OT and PT work together in this way. It’s almost like physiotherapy carries you to your maximum potential, then occupational therapy takes over and supports in a way that takes your potential to the next level. The whole goal, in all of this, is to have a good quality of life, because it’s about healing and moving.
So I tell students, we’re mechanics of the body. Your car mechanic keeps your car moving. We keep the human body moving, and movement is that key to a vibrant life.
What do students learn during the practical portion of the program?
Exercises are exercises and people know what they are, but we train and learn to exercise patients and that is different. With an injured person, exercise is used as a treatment, it could end up being beneficial or it can end up harming them. As such, you have to know which exercises are beneficial, which are harmful, and when to do what. There’s a science behind it. Our students learn lots of exercises. They learn strengthening exercises, stretching exercises, range of motion exercises; they learn balancing exercises, coordination exercises, endurance exercises, and other physical agents.
They also learn how to use electric stimulation, including ultrasound therapy, heat therapy, cold therapy and laser therapy. These are all different agents that we use that help us to heal tissues. So, with physical agents, there are no side effects and that’s the beauty of it. Exercise has no side effects, if done correctly, physical agents have no side effects if done correctly. That’s the other added advantage of physio and why it’s so highly recommended when it comes to patients who’ve had injuries, surgeries, any kind of musculoskeletal and nervous system problem, they need physiotherapy. You’ve had heart surgery, you need physiotherapy. Lung surgery, physiotherapy. Any orthopedic surgery, any nerve surgery and muscle surgery, physiotherapy afterwards.
Who can join the program?
A student needs to be able to read and write effectively and must have a high school diploma. Many people enter into the program from clinical backgrounds, medical backgrounds and healthcare related fields. This is because the program is a wonderful avenue for someone who has been treating patients in their native country, have emigrated to Canada, and want to get back into a field that allows them to treat patients.
What are you passionate about Shaeba?
Ultimately, my passion is in showing students that you don’t have to be scared of big textbooks or big words or big vocabulary. It’s all very easy when you have the right approach.
Honestly, since 2006 whatever I’ve been doing has been my passion. It’s truly why I’ve never left private college and the industry and the environment. I love it. I love that there are so many different people from so many different countries of different ages, backgrounds and careers. And I’m able to put them all onto the same platform to understand how the technical information relates to the patient and initiating healing and change, and they suddenly realize, “Hey, this is quite doable, this is easy.” That’s what I enjoy the most. That’s when a student’s mind can change forever. I saw a poster once that read, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson”. And that’s why after getting into this field of feeding knowledge to people, I haven’t wanted to do anything else.
What are the prospects for graduates of the program?
The industry is booming. It is still expanding. Anybody who lives anywhere in Ontario is going to tell you that. The reason is really that physiotherapy and occupational therapy are babies; they’re still growing. Medicine is over 1000 years old. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy, in their full professional form, are about 100 years old. That’s a big difference. And the use and the application of these two fields is going to continue to expand. So, you’re entering into a growing job market. I would like to say to all future students who are interested in this program, “Realize that you’re entering into a field where it is not just a job, it becomes your existence. You’re on 24 hours when you’re in healthcare, you’re not in healthcare from nine to five. Not only are you entering into this healthcare field to find a secure, economically lucrative position, you are now a role model for society.
Your truth, your honesty, your veracity, your sense of justice, it needs to be strong within. And that’s one of our main focuses. I like the PTA/OTA program because I don’t teach one subject. I train the student entirely, which includes not only theoretical knowledge and clinical training, but a strong sense of ethical standing, considering, “Who am I and what is my role in society?” So, I tell students to come in with that passion, and know that you’re going to make a difference, make people better; you’re going to change people’s lives.”
Are you still considering how you can align your interests with a career in this field? Take the “Anderson College Career Training Readiness Quiz”.
But if you’re ready to launch your Physiotherapist & Occupational Therapist Assistant career today or want to explore one of our other 30+ program, book a virtual appointment to speak with an Admissions Advisor. We’re here to help you navigate every step along the way.
Hear more about our PTA/OTA program from Shaeba here:
What to expect in our Physiotherapist & Occupational Therapist Assistant Program?
What is a Physiotherapist & Occupational Therapist Assistant?