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Physical therapists work to restore movement and feeling to the muscles of patients who have suffered an accident, illness or disease. Graduate and pre-professional programs in physical therapy offered through accredited universities are often very competitive, and either require or recommend that individuals complete at least 150 volunteer hours under the supervision of licensed physical therapists before applying. Volunteer experience will provide aspiring physical therapists with a first-hand look at the duties involved in the career and will prepare them for future clinical studies.
One of the most important duties a physical therapist volunteer can undertake is to observe licensed physical therapists and their interactions with patients. Volunteers in physical therapy clinics primarily enroll in unpaid programs to learn, and so are required to pay special attention to how physical therapists make initial assessments, diagnose patients, develop treatment plans and administer treatments. Volunteers should also feel free to ask questions of licensed physical therapists so that they might be better prepared to complete clinical rotations during graduate school.
Physical therapy volunteers or aides are often asked to prepare patients for upcoming modes of treatment. This may include transporting patients to exercise rooms or preparing patients on exercise tables. Sometimes this involves lifting and moving patients, and physical therapist volunteers should be physically up to the task. Volunteers may also be responsible for fetching the crutches, wheelchairs or other tools used in physical therapy treatment.
Determining that treatment and patient rooms are clean is one of the primary responsibilities of physical therapist volunteers. They are often responsible for sanitizing individual examination rooms as well as exercise rooms and equipment. While the task is menial, it is extremely important that safety and sanitation are adhered to in licensed physical therapy clinics.
Assist with Treatments
Physical therapy volunteers are unlicensed, and are therefore not allowed to perform any treatments, adjustments, massages or similar activities on patients. However, many licensed physicians keep volunteers or aides on-hand during treatments to assist when patients must be moved, lowered or raised. Physical therapist volunteers can sometimes act as gofers during patient treatments, and can sometimes be used to keep patients comfortable during painful procedures.
Perform Clerical Tasks
Individual physical therapy clinics can use volunteers to make sure that administrative tasks are completed and that the front desk stays organized. Volunteers are often called upon to order supplies, help patients fill out insurance forms or answer phones. While clerical tasks are not always a given part of a volunteer experience, they can prepare students for future careers as physical therapy assistants or aides.
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Lindsey Klingele is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer with more than five years of experience writing for consumer and trade publications such as "Meatingplace," "Plate" and "Celeb Life" magazines. She holds a degree in journalism from Central Michigan University and has covered topics ranging from the food industry to popular culture.