Physical Therapy Assistant – Career Overview

A physical therapy assistant (PTA) works under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist (PT) who can diagnose and treat folks suffering from loss of mobility and other functional problems. The assistant helps the PT carry out the treatment plan by providing therapeutic stretching and exercise instruction.

They also deal with therapeutic techniques such as mechanical traction, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, massage and balance training. The assistant PT is part of a health care team that helps patients recover their physical function and relieve their pain. It is very satisfying knowing that you helped someone improve their quality of life. Because you’ll be dealing so much with people in your job, you’ll need good interpersonal skills and a love of working with people.

Education Needed

Typically an associate’s degree is required to become a physical therapy assistant. Most states require the programs to be accredited by the APTA or American Physical Therapy Association’s CAPTE or Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. The two year associate’s degree program includes classes in medical terminology, physiology, healthcare law, therapeutic exercises and rehabilitation procedures.

The final semesters include clinical practicums that involve cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid training. The assistant must also pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) which assesses basic competence for registration or licensure as a PT or PTA.

Physical Therapy Assistant VS Physical Therapy Aide

A physical therapy aide  is different than an assistant. Since an aide doesn’t have the same certification credentials as a physical therapy assistant they aren’t permitted to perform the some of the clinical tasks that an assistant or full physical therapist will.

Physical therapy aides will mainly help with preparing areas for patients, helping them with moving around the clinic. They are also often in charge of many clerical tasks.

Job Growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment opportunities for a physical therapy assistant is expected to increase by 35 percent between the years 2008 and 2018 which is much better than for other occupations. The future high demand for PTAs depends on an elderly population that continues to grow, especially now that the Baby Boomers are retiring.

The elderly are vulnerable to debilitating and chronic conditions or injuries requiring therapy. Furthermore, the older population is susceptible to more heart attacks and strokes which may also require physical rehabilitation. Also advancements in medical technology increase the survival rate of trauma victims and babies with birth defects, and this increases the demand for rehabilitative services.

Salary Data

The salary of a physical therapy assistant with less than one year of experience may start at around $13.60 per hour. Staying on the job for five years commands rates of over $17.50 per hour and working for 10 years or more may pay $20.40 to $32.75 per hour. As of May 2008, the median annual wages were $46,140. Home health care services and nursing care facilities paid over $51,000 per year while offices of physicians and other health practitioners paid less than $45,000. The highest paid PTAs made over $63,830, so it is a lucrative field to enter.

There is a difference in salary averages depending on where you work. Let’s take a look at salary data as a industry breakdown.

  • Home health care services $51,950
  • Nursing care facilities $51,090
  • Hospitals $45,510
  • Health practitioner offices $44,580
  • Offices of physicians $43,390

Career Overview Video

Take a look at this overview video covering what is involved in being a physical therapy assistant.

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