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Physical Therapist Assistant Career Overview

by South University
December 11, 2018 Physical therapist assistants apply their skills and knowledge to make a difference in their patient's lives. http://www.southuniversity.edu/whoweare/newsroom/blog/physical-therapist-assistant-career-overview
A photo of two South University physical therapist assistant students.

Physical therapist assistants apply their skills and knowledge to make a difference in their patient’s lives. It’s a rewarding, rapidly growing career in which you can work with people one-on-one to help them regain movement and manage pain after an injury or illness. To be a physical therapy assistant (sometimes called PTA or PT assistant), you need compassion, communication skills, an interest in anatomy and physiology, and, of course, the proper training. Physical therapist assistants work under the guidance and supervision of physical therapists.

Before deciding if a physical therapy assistant career is right for you, read on to learn about everything from this role’s responsibilities to work hours and settings.

What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

In a typical day, a physical therapy assistant may see new and repeat patients. All new patients must first meet with a physical therapist. The physical therapist evaluates the patient, determines a treatment plan with short- and long-term goals, and may assign a physical therapy assistant to work with that client.

After meeting with a physical therapist and other healthcare staff to discuss their patients’ needs, a physical therapy assistant may:

  • Treat patients using exercise, traction, electrotherapy, gait and balance training, massage, and other therapeutic interventions
  • Modify treatments to match the client’s abilities and progress
  • Encourage and motivate people during difficult activities
  • Assist patients with movements or exercises, ensuring activities are done safely and correctly
  • Monitor patients before, during, and after therapy, measuring and documenting things like a patients’ range-of-motion or vital signs.

Physical therapy assistants must also educate patients and family members on

  • The purpose and importance of physical therapy interventions
  • How to use devices and equipment, such as wheelchairs, crutches, or orthotics
  • Daily activities and movement outside therapy that can promote rehabilitation success. <.i>

Following a session, the physical therapist assistant reports patient progress to the physical therapist.

What is a Typical Work Day for a Physical Therapist Assistant?

A photo of South University Physical Therapist Assistant students.

Physical therapist assistants generally work full time with set schedules. They primarily work during the day with some evening and weekend hours required to accommodate patients’ schedules. Their work requires stamina, as physical therapist assistants are on their feet most of the day as they set up and put away equipment, assist patients moving between treatment areas, and help people move into required positions.

What Patients Go to Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy can help people of all ages achieve rehabilitation after an injury or change in health status has impacted their mobility or other physical functions. Client conditions are vast and may include:

  • Arthritis
  • Burns
  • Back injuries/pain
  • Balance issues
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
  • Head or brain injuries
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stroke.

Where Do Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 56% of physical therapy assistants work in the offices or clinics of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists. At 23%, hospitals are the second most common place of work, where a physical therapist assistant might help patients recovering from surgery, illness, or an accident.

Physical therapy assistants may also work in physicians’ offices and for government organizations such as the Veterans Health Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Indian Health Service. In nursing care facilities or skilled nursing facilities, a physical therapy assistant might help the elderly or those in need of intense rehabilitation therapy. Those employed by home healthcare services will treat patients in their homes.

Some physical therapy professionals specialize in a particular area such as sports medicine, school activities, or elder care.

What is the Career Outlook for Physical Therapist Assistants?

An image of a bar graph.

Physical therapy assistant is an in-demand career, expected to grow 31% between 2016 and 2026, with a median annual wage of $57,430 in 2017.

Employment growth in the PTA field will be fueled by the health needs of aging baby boomers, an increase in patients with chronic conditions, and medical and technological developments that increase survival rates among trauma victims and newborns with birth defects. These populations will all likely benefit from physical rehabilitation services.

Prepare for Your Physical Therapist Assistant Career

To enter this growing career, you’ll need to first earn an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapy assistant program. At South University, our Physical Therapy Assistant programs can be completed in as little as 2 years and can provide you with the chance to gain 600+ hours of hands-on experience working with local physical therapists. After earning your degree, you’ll be prepared to pursue licensure or certification in your state*.

*South University does not guarantee third-party certification/licensure. Outside agencies control the requirements for taking and passing certification/licensing exams and are subject to change without notice to South University.

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