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Physical Therapist Assistant Career Overview

by South University
December 11, 2018
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.

by South University
December 11, 2018
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12 Relaxation Techniques and Tips for When You Need to Relieve Stress

by South University
November 7, 2018
A photo of South University nursing students practicing patient care.

No one is immune to stress, no matter how well you take care of yourself or how much you plan ahead. Stress can be related to work, school, relationships, and the world around you. It’s bound to happen. So, what do you do when things go wrong and the stress is building? What relaxation techniques do you use that actually work? Here are some trusted methods you can use to relieve stress and calm the mind.

  1. Take a break
    Stop what you’re doing. Step away and shift your focus. Look out the window. Drink a cup of tea. Do something that’s creative or that requires focus—like doodling, knitting, or Sudoku—to take your mind off what’s worrying you.

  2. Breathe deep
  3. Breathe in slowly through nose. Feel your lungs expand and notice as your belly rises. Pause at the end of your inhale. Then slowly release your breath, trying to make your exhale slower than your inhale. Repeat this deep breathing three or four times. As you do so, your heart rate will slow, your parasympathetic nervous system will help you to relax, and your mind will begin to calm.

    Consider trying guided meditations that focus on your breathe with apps like Calm or Headspace. In addition to 10-minute and longer meditations, you’ll also find short 30-seconds, 1-minute, or 3-minute meditation options that fit even your busiest days.

  4. Listen to calming music or nature sounds
    Play slow quiet music to help you relax. Choose songs with little to no vocals and no loud instruments. Alternatively, you can try nature sounds—like that of an ocean, a creek, or birds in a field. Whether you’re working around the house or the office, these soothing sounds can slow your mind and boost your mood.

  5. Create a gratitude journal
    Write down 10 things you’re grateful for. Reread your list and think about each item. In doing so, you move your attention away from your stressors to the objects of your gratitude. Keep this list handy and add to it weekly. When you need to relieve your stress, revisit your list to remind yourself of all the good things in your life.

  6. Sing
    Need to reduce stress and anxiety? Like exercising, minus all that sweat, singing your favorite song has the power to produce endorphins that improve your mood and reduce cortisol, a hormone commonly associated with stress, to release tension. So, in your car, in the shower, or in your home, turn it up and belt it out. Maybe don’t try this one in a crowded office though.

  7. Go screen-free
    The constant influx of email. Your love-hate relationship with social media. The never-ending news cycle. Sometimes, it gets to be too much. Give yourself permission to disconnect. Turn off your phone. Read a book, go for a stroll, spend time with your family. Whatever it is, do something that makes you happy.

  8. Declutter
    That clutter at your desk or your kitchen table or even in your car could be contributing to your stress levels. Stop putting off the work of decluttering. Cleaning up and throwing things away can feel good in the moment and seeing a clear space in the future will help you continue to feel relaxed. Be sure to set up an organization system that helps you keep your space clutter-free. This may include reminders or scheduling time each week to sort and organize.

  9. Start small
    If you’re feeling stressed about your to-do list, pick one thing to focus on. Break that item down into small, manageable tasks. Set a realistic goal for which of those small tasks you plan to accomplish in the next hour, two hours, or day. Recognize and acknowledge your small wins as you complete each task.

  10. Be with friends and family
    Talking about how you feel with close friends or family can help you to process your emotions and find the clarity to deal with what’s going on. Your loved ones can also join you in brainstorming how to solve a problem and help you to see something from a new perspective. Spending time with loved ones can also help to distract you from your stressors and give you renewed energy to tackle any complex issues in your life.

  11. Laugh
    Find videos of your favorite comedian or maybe some adorable animals doing funny things. How about an episode of your favorite comedy show? Laughing is another great way to get your feel-good endorphins flowing and to lower your stress hormones.

  12. Move
    Stretch. Dance around the room even if it feels silly. Work out. Dig in your garden. Take your dog for a walk. Do what works for you; just get your energy flowing and your mind off the things that stress you out. (Get bonus points for going outside or spending time with a pet, as both have been shown to help relieve stress.)

  13. Ask for help
    Sometimes we feel stress because we’ve bitten off more than we can chew. If you need help, ask for it. Ask your boss, your instructor, or your family. Most people are willing to help if only they know how and when you need support.

Stress Happens

One important thing to remember is to never stress about being stressed. Stress happens and worrying about your stress levels never helps. The best course of action is to find a way to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress. Over time, you’ll learn what relaxation techniques work for you.

If you’re interested in helping other people cope with stress and other complex issues in their lives, you may want to consider a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program or Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at South University.

by South University
November 7, 2018
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South University Gives Back

by South University
October 30, 2018
A photo of an individual get a check-up by South University nursing students.

South University Students & Staff Serve Their Communities

At South University, we strive to instill in students not only a lifelong focus on their own personal and professional growth, but also on the improvement of the world around them. We believe that when we are all active members of our communities, together we can become stronger, smarter, and more successful than possible as individuals.

To honor and bring awareness to this mission, today, we celebrate some of the many South University students, faculty, and staff doing their part to make the world a better place.

A photo of South University, Online Programs employees working at a Back-to-School Breakfast fundraiser.Online Programs Team Raises Funds for Charity

South University, Online Programs partnered with Argosy University, Online Programs to host a Back-to-School Breakfast fundraiser this fall. Proceeds from this event benefited Pittsburgh-based non-profit organizations, Kitchen of Grace and Morrow School. By purchasing breakfasts at work, employees of South University, Online Programs and Argosy University, Online Programs raised over $850 to help members of their communities.

Nursing Students & Faculty Give Back-to-School Physicals at No Cost

South University, West Palm Beach Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students worked side-by-side with nursing faculty to provide free school physicals for 400 students at two separate sites. Their work supported the Palm Beach County Office of Community’s Back to School Bash, designed to help all children get the support and services they need before heading back to school.

The South University BSN students began the screenings with registration, height, weight, BMI, blood pressure, and vision testing. The MSN students then completed the physical examinations and provided health education for the students and their parents. In addition to benefiting the community, the event was an excellent opportunity for our students to apply their enhanced nursing skills and expertise outside of the classroom.

A photo of South University, Online program staff members who volunteered at a Dress for Success event in Pittsburgh, PA.Online Programs Staff Members Volunteer at Dress for Success Organization

Employees from South University, Online Programs recently volunteered at Dress for Success Pittsburgh. Dress for Success is an organization that assists women in achieving economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire, and developmental tools that can help women thrive in work and life. Our Online Programs staff helped to sort, stock, and organize clothing at the Dress for Success boutique that assists clients with preparing for employment interviews.

Students Provide Meals for Families of Hospital Patients

The South University, West Palm Beach National Student Nurses Association chapter recently volunteered to prepare meals for the families of patients undergoing treatment at local hospitals.

The students volunteered as part of the ‘Chef for A Day’ program at Quantum House, an organization that provides a place to stay for families of patients at West Palm Beach area hospitals. Quantum House welcomes families from around the USA and the world while their children are receiving long-term medical care for anywhere from weeks to several months. The 30 rooms stay occupied throughout the year, and volunteers, such as our students, help to care for these families by providing meals.

The student nurses and their families volunteered by planning, fundraising, shopping, and cooking a brunch full of fresh fruit, eggs, omelets, waffles, and an assortment of muffins and cookies for 60 people at the Quantum House.

Students and Faculty Volunteer with Mobile Medical Clinic

A photo of South University, Virginia Beach Occupational Therapy Assistant, BSN, and MSN Family Nurse Practitioner students who volunteered at a mobile medical clinic.South University, Virginia Beach students from the Associate of Applied Science Occupational Therapy Assistant, BSN, and MSN with a specialization in Family Nurse Practitioner programs volunteered their time and talents to provide primary medical care at no cost for homeless and uninsured individuals and families.

Overseen by faculty members, the students volunteered in partnership with Promethean Group, a primary care mobile medical clinic at Beach Fellowship Church. The group also worked with the Promethean Group this fall, using their nursing skills and healthcare knowledge to provide back-to-school physicals at no cost for homeless and underprivileged youth in Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake, VA.

Want to Join the South University Community?

Learn more about South University by exploring our site or contacting our team at 1.888.444.3404,or, if you’re interested in learning fully online, get a peek at the online classroom.

by South University
October 30, 2018
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A Simple Guide to Self-Care for Busy Students

by South University
October 24, 2018
A photo of an individual get a check-up by South University nursing students.

The word self-care gets thrown around a lot, so that it can feel like self-care is just one more thing to add to the bottom of your long to-do list. But staying mentally healthy and physically healthy is important, even if you are a busy student juggling your college classes with your personal and professional life. Good self-care routines can have many benefits, including helping you move through life energized and happy.

Below is a list of mental and physical health tips for hardworking students and anyone else ready to take better care of themselves with a few minor changes to their days.

Rejuvenate with a relaxing bedtime ritual and a full night’s sleep

One in three adults don’t get enough sleep. Too little sleep can slow down your reaction times, decrease your ability to focus, and negatively impact your health and energy. If you have trouble falling asleep, follow a consistent sleep schedule. Keep your room dark and quiet with phones on alarm-only mode. A relaxing bedtime ritual—like reading, drinking caffeine-free herbal tea, or taking a soothing bath—can help. At a minimum, let your brain wind down by avoiding tv shows, computers, and exercise for 30 minutes before bedtime.

Eat food that gives you energy for your day

Eating well is among the most important self-care activities. Start with a high-protein breakfast, and then avoid high sugar foods that will result in a crash that will leave you feeling exhausted. If you’re on the go, bring easy-to-eat snacks with you for the day ahead, like nuts, yogurt, or pre-cut veggies. If you know you get too busy during the week to make healthy meals, prep meals over the weekend that you can simply heat up and eat. You can even do breakfast this way, by pre-making and freezing breakfast wraps.

Spend time in nature at least once a week

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, fresh air could help. Being in nature is scientifically shown to lower stress hormones, reduce mental fatigue, and increase emotional well-being, including boosting the serotonin in our brain. Time in nature has also been linked to improved attention span, creativity, and short-term memory. (Studies even suggest that walks in in the woods can lower blood pressure, boost your immune system, and decrease cancer risk.) If you don’t consider yourself the outdoorsy type, don’t worry—weekend hiking excursions aren’t required. Even sitting under the trees in a local park can do you good.

Get moving

Daily physical activity can help you feel more alert, productive, and happier. Of course, when you’re busy, it’s hard to put exercise at the top of your list. To change that, find something you actually like doing. If running or lifting weights is not your thing, try turning up your music and having a daily dance session before the kids come home. Or maybe yoga or kickboxing classes will do the trick. With the many YouTube videos online, you may not even have to leave the house. Your exercise doesn’t need to be intense; just moving and stretching can lower stress and help you stay mentally healthy.

If you need to, get creative and find ways to combine activities. Do you have any one-on-one meetings at work that could be held while walking instead of sitting? Could you do some exercises while watching the evening news? Maybe you could get family time in by going for walks or biking around the neighborhood together. Or plan to go hiking or canoeing with friends to get the triple benefit of exercise, nature, and time spent with people who make you smile.

Quit a bad habit

A photo of an individual talking with a therapist. Self-care doesn’t have to be about starting something new. Sometimes, it’s about quitting what is bad for you. What habits should you stop? Do you feel guilty for eating the junk food in your pantry? Don’t buy it anymore. Get burnt out from sitting so long in front of the computer? Stop doing that and take breaks every 30 minutes instead. From how often we check social media to the way we talk to ourselves, we all have things we should stop doing. Think about it. What’s getting in your way? What can you do to simplify the process of quitting that habit?

Make your self-care routine stick

Remember, a good self-care routine doesn’t have to be fancy. Self-care starts with getting enough sleep, eating well, and moving your body. It involves building some new habits and dropping others. If reading about these self-care activities feels overwhelming, take a step back. Pick one self-care activity to focus on and start there. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so give yourself some grace and aim for progress, not perfection, as you work toward a physically and mentally healthier you.

by South University
October 24, 2018
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Want to Become a Nurse? This is What You Need to Know Before Earning Your Nursing Degree.

by South University
October 15, 2018
A photo of a South University nursing student.

You're considering becoming a nurse. Maybe you have family members in the healthcare field, or you’ve been inspired by nurses who cared for you or your loved ones. Whatever your motivation, your nursing career will need to start with a nursing education. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is the degree recommended by industry leaders and strongly preferred by 86% of recently surveyed employers. This nursing bachelor’s degree can prepare you with a solid foundation on which to build your career.

Of course, before you commit to a degree or a career, you’re likely to have a few questions—and we have answers!

What are the benefits of a nursing career?

Employment Growth: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, resulting in 438,100 new nursing positions!

Employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, resulting in 438,100 new nursing positions!

That faster than average employment growth is driven in part by the aging of the large Baby Boomer generation and their increasing health care needs. On top of this, large numbers of nurses are expected to retire in the coming decade. Together, this means that nurses are in-demand. In some regions—particularly in the South and West—nurses are increasingly in short supply. By entering this profession, you can help fill that demand and care for those who need it.

Personal Fulfillment: Nursing can be a rewarding career. As a nurse, you can have a huge impact on your patients (emotionally and physically) as you care for and support them through their most difficult moments. And the more educated you are, the better you’ll know how to help. US News even ranks nursing #18 on their 100 Best Jobs list, based on factors like job market, future growth, salary, and work-life balance. Nurses can also expect to earn the respect of others; for 16 years straight, nurses have been voted the most honest and ethical professionals in an annual national Gallup Poll.

US News even ranks nursing #18 on their 100 Best Jobs list

What kind of person makes a good nurse?

Compassionate: Nurses need to demonstrate caring and empathy for patients through their bedside manner. Nurses must also stay emotionally strong and help patients and family members to manage their emotions in emergencies, stressful situations, and other trying times.

Good Communicators: Listening to patients is essential as a nurse. You must know how to ask the right questions and gain your patients trust so that you can understand their health and concerns. Likewise, a large part of nursing is educating patients, including explaining complicated medical information and instructions. Nurses also must communicate and collaborate with many fellow healthcare providers.

Organized: Nurses constantly balance multiple tasks and patients, so keeping everything in order is key to providing quality care. Close attention to detail is another professional quality nurses need, to ensure that proper medicine and treatments are given on schedule.

Problem-Solver: In many situations, nurses are called upon to think and act quickly. You’ll often be asked to assess changes in patients and decide when action or assistance is needed.

Hard Worker: Last but not least, hard work is another distinguishing characteristic of a great nurse. Nursing is rewarding but caring for others isn't easy. Nurses are on their feet most of the day, and, depending on where you work, nursing shifts can be long.

What are some major jobs that nurses do?

As we've mentioned, registered nurses (RNs) deliver and coordinate patient care as well as educate and support patients and their families. Most RNs work with a team of physicians and healthcare specialists and may also manage nursing assistants, aids, and licensed* practical nurses.

The jobs nurses do include:

  • Assessing and recording patient conditions and symptoms
  • Administering medicine and treatment
  • Operating and monitoring medical equipment
  • Assisting with diagnostic tests and analysis
  • Teaching patients how to manage injuries and illnesses

RNs can choose to focus on particular groups of patients, such as children or the elderly. Different types of nurses also specialize in certain health issues, such as cardiovascular nurses, who care patients who have heart surgery or heart disease.

What is a typical career path for a nurse?

After earning your nursing degree, the next step will be to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and meet your state requirements for licensing*. From there, how your nursing career progresses is up to you. You’ll have the chance to work in a variety of in-demand specialties, and over time you can advance into more senior nursing positions.

Some nurses earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) so that they can provide higher quality care and work more independently. MSN programs can offer specializations such as family nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or nursing informatics, to name just a few. After you have an MSN, you can also gain skills in new specializations with post graduate certificate programs. You can even pursue a doctorate in nursing (a Doctor of Nursing Practice or a PhD in Nursing) to increase your leadership, teaching, clinical, and/or research skills. The trajectory of your nursing career all depends on your interests and goals!

Ready to discuss BSN programs and applying to nursing school?

At South University, our nursing programs are led by experienced** nurses and are built to make you a confident, caring health care professional. Contact our admissions team at 1.888.444.3404 or request information online today.

*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.

**Credentials and experience levels vary by faculty and instructors.

by South University
October 15, 2018
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