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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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How the GI Bill® Can Help You Advance Your Education

by South University
December 7, 2018
A photo of two South University nursing students in their commencement garb.

Many military members know that the GI Bill®* can help them pursue their education, but the details of GI Bill® benefits and eligibility are lesser known. So what is the GI Bill®? First passed in 1944 and since revised many times, the GI Bill® encompasses multiple education benefit programs provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While each program’s eligibility and benefits vary, over the years, the GI Bill® has helped millions of qualifying servicemembers, veterans, and their families further their education, training, and skills.

GI Bill® Benefits for College Degrees

Military members and veterans can use GI Bill® benefits for undergraduate degree or advanced degree programs. You can also use the GI Bill® to pay for multiple degrees if you have remaining benefits after your first degree. For example, you might pursue an undergraduate degree in Psychology and then a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

In cases where the GI Bill® does not fully cover college tuition, Active Duty, Reservists, or National Guard members may qualify for Department of Defense (DoD) funding such as Tuition Assistance or Top-Up benefits, which can cover part or all of the remaining tuition costs. Some states and/or schools also offer military scholarships/grants. Beyond these DoD and VA education benefits, you may qualify for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

When using DoD or VA benefits, it is important to know your benefit limits and that eligibility may depend on successful course completion.

Major GI Bill® Benefit Programs & Eligibility

Post-9/11 GI Bill®: The Post-9/11 GI Bill® provides up to 36 months of education benefits for servicemembers who have served on active duty for at least 90 days after 9/10/2001 or were discharged with a service connected disability after 30 consecutive days. Honorably discharged veterans awarded a Purple Heart after 9/10/2001 can also qualify.

Individuals entitled to 100% of this benefit may have their entire cost of tuition and fees covered and paid directly to your school. In addition, you may qualify for a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) and book and supplies stipend. Active duty members may be able to transfer unused benefits to a dependent or spouse. See www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_gibill.asp for more information.

Yellow Ribbon Program: The Yellow Ribbon Program can assist veterans with 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill® eligibility whose tuition and fees exceeds the VA’s annual cap. Once you reach this cap, the VA and the participating school each cover half of the remaining tuition and fees until the new cap year begins (August 1 – July 31). (Select South University programs may be subject to a maximum yearly tuition & fee reimbursement.) Fry Scholarship recipients as of 8/1/2018 are now eligible to participate in the Yellow Program. Child transferees of active duty servicemembers may be eligible if the servicemember is qualified at the 100% rate. See www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/yellow_ribbon.asp for more information.

Montgomery GI Bill® Active Duty: Servicemembers who have paid into this benefit while on active duty may have a significant portion of their tuition and fees covered. This program can provide up to 36 months of education benefits paid directly to you, so you will need to work with your school on a financial plan. To qualify, servicemembers must have an honorable discharge and meet other eligibility requirements set by the VA. For more information, visit www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/montgomery_bill.asp.

Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve: This program provides up to 36 months of education benefits. It is intended for members of the Selected Reserve and National Guard who have enlisted or re-enlisted in the Selected Reserve with an obligation to serve 6 or more years after June 30, 1985. To be eligible, you must complete initial active duty for training (IDAT). Eligibility expires upon leaving the Selected Reserve. This benefit is also paid to you monthly, so you’ll need to work with your school on a financial plan. For more information, visit www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/mgib_sr.asp.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment: This program supports eligible servicemembers and veterans with service-connected disabilities. Designed to help you prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment, it may cover the entire cost of tuition and fees. Before receiving this benefit, you will meet with a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to develop an education plan. For eligibility details or to contact a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/vocrehab/eligibility_and_entitlement.asp

Fry Scholarship: This scholarship provides the Post 9/11 GI Bill® to children of servicemembers and surviving spouses of Armed Forces members who died in the line of duty after 9/10/2001. Qualifying individuals may receive up to 36 months of benefits at the 100% level as well as a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) and a book and supplies stipend. For more information, visit www.benefits.va.gov/gibill or www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/docs/factsheets/fry_scholarship.pdf.

Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA): DEA provides educational assistance to spouses and dependents of veterans who have died or are totally and permanently disabled as a result of their service. This benefit pays directly to the student, so you’ll need to work with your school on a financial plan. For more information, visit www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/survivor_dependent_assistance.asp.

Using Your GI Bill® Benefits at South University

To learn about using military and VA education benefits at South University, visit our Military Benefits page or view our Military Brochure. When you request information online or call South University at 1.800.688.0932, we’ll connect you with a team member who specializes in supporting military students as they prepare to pursue a college degree.

*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

by South University
December 7, 2018
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How to Stay Focused & Productive This Holiday Season

by South University
December 5, 2018
A photo of two South University nursing students studying a piece of medical equipment.

The holidays can be a time of celebration and fun, but they’re also known for being hectic and stressful. If you’re already busy with work and school during the rest of the year, here’s how you can better manage your time, focus, and productivity this holiday season.

Prioritize wisely

With everything going on this holiday season, clear your mind by getting your to-dos out of your head and onto paper. Whether it’s about school, work, or your personal life, write it down and decide if it should be done, today, this week, or later this month. You may be able to delegate some personal tasks to a helpful friend, family member, or spouse. If you explain that school is making you busier than normal and that you need to stay focused on working toward your goals, you’ll likely find someone willing to pitch in.

Make sure you’re also strategic in what you say yes to. For example, you likely don’t need to attend an event every weekend. To stay focused, you first must choose what to focus on and prioritize what matters.

Break down big projects

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by a school or work project and you already have a long list of holiday to-dos, skipping straight to the holidays is tempting. Instead, stop procrastinating and break down your project into manageable tasks. Ask yourself what is the first thing you need to do for your project. The second? Third? Keep going until you have a clear plan. Then work your way through each part and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing each step.

Dividing time between your project and holiday list is fine as long as you’re not ignoring your project entirely.

“Give yourself time each day to work on your project until it’s done, so that you can get to your other priorities,” says Alexandra Young, Student Services Manager for South University.

Keep others informed

“The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with friends and family,” Young says. “However, you should let them know when you’ll be taking time before your gatherings for schoolwork. This allows you to stay ahead of the due dates so you won’t be worrying about assignments while you spend time with loved ones.”

Communicating in advance also sets expectations, so that you have fewer interruptions and can finish your work faster. The same goes for telling the people who live with you, especially if they’re taking time off work or your children are out of school while you’re at home working. Let people know what you’re doing and for how long so you can stay focused.

Shop smart

A photo of a South University student using a computer.

Whether you’re shopping online or in person, it’s easy to get caught up browsing the pages or aisles without realizing how much time has passed. Before shopping, create a to-do list and set a limit for how long you’ll shop.

Online shopping also makes it tempting to buy things as they come to mind. But don’t let shopping distract you from your work. Instead, decide what day and time you’ll shop and add it to your calendar. When you think of something to buy, simply add it to your list or online calendar event, so that you can do all your shopping at once.

On shopping days, stick to your list and keep an eye on the clock. For an even more productive day, squeeze in some reading or an assignment in before or after shopping.

Take advantage of days off

Over the holidays, you’ll have some days off class, but you can still work on coursework over your break. Young suggests, “Try to find time for readings or submitting a discussion response before big events.” (That way there’s no need to leave early and you can fully enjoy yourself.)

If you’re caught up, check your syllabus for upcoming work and find ways to get ahead. This helps you to stay in the routine of doing schoolwork, so that you’re still in the zone and ready to keep learning when your classes resume.

Enjoying the Holiday Season

Whatever tips you use for how to stay focused this holiday season, make sure you give yourself time for fun and family.

“Going to school can even be a great talking point to share with those who care about you! Let them know what assignments you’re working on during this festive time and share what assignments you really like,” says Young.

“Don’t look at school as a hurdle through the holidays; instead see it as a great accomplishment that you are progressing toward something positive!”

by South University
December 5, 2018
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