Physical therapy assistants are employed to provide physical therapy services, and they usually work under the supervision of a physical therapist. Also known as PTAs, the duties of a physical therapy assistant includes; implementing components of patient care, obtain data related to the treatments provided, and collaborate with the PT to modify patient care where necessary.
Physical therapy assistants also teach patients exercise techniques, perform massages, utilize electrical stimulus treatment, and show patients how to use various forms of alternative treatments such as ice and heat. After treatment, they keep records of patients’ progress and reactions to therapy for the physical therapist’s use and to determine future treatment.
Physical therapy assistants don’t work on their own discretion, they conduct their work under a physical therapist. They prepare rooms for treatment and cleanup once treatment has been completed. They equally help patients who require help walking or moving.
Physical therapists generally examine a patient and prescribe a plan of care. It’s the job of the physical therapist assistant to carry out that plan. Their work can include manually maneuvering a patient’s body for different massages or stretches prescribed to relieve damages incurred by disease or injury. Or they might explain different exercises and observe the patients while they do them. They might also use different equipment or machines to help with therapy.
What Does It Take to Be a Physical Therapist Assistant?
Being a PTA is an incredible career in a fast-growing field. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, PTA jobs are some of the fastest growing in the nation—averaging 40% annually. This is much faster than the 7% average growth rate for all occupations.
In 2014, PTAs, including traveling PTAs, held about 78,700 jobs, in a variety of industries: Therapist offices (43%), Hospitals (23%), Home healthcare services (9%), Physician offices (5%). And by 2024, that number is expected to grow by another 51,400 PTA jobs.
The top paying industry for PTA jobs is nursing care facilities. There, you can expect to make, $64,030 on average. The lowest paying industry is in a physician’s office, here you can earn $52,210. A traveling PTA salary is slightly higher. That’s because the travel physical therapy profession is the next big thing.
If you’re willing to travel, you can expect a starting salary of $67,200 annually. On average, you can expect to earn $81,600, and for experienced PTA travel jobs, you could potentially make an average income of around $96,000. Physical therapy assistants must have an associate degree from an accredited physical therapy program. These programs, of which there are about 300 in the country, include didactic coursework and a clinical component.
All states require that physical therapist assistants become licensed before they can practice. Obtaining this licensure usually requires completing an accredited physical therapist assistant program and passing the certifying board exam, offered through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states might additionally insist that practicing physical therapist assistants undergo things like a criminal background check and other state-specific exams.
Are Physical Therapy Assistants in Demand?
When considering the professionals and industries that need physical therapy assistants, it is safe to conclude that there is very strong demand for physical therapy assistants (PTA) in the current economy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PTA jobs are projected to grow by 31% in the next decade. This demand is due to the aging population in need of physical therapy solutions for a variety of issues, such as diabetes, obesity, and general mobility issues. Growth is projected to be especially strong for PTAs who work at home health facilities or who can travel to a patient’s home or long-term care facility to provide their services.
To increase your likelihood of landing physical therapist assistant jobs, you need to know that some states are more viable for that search.
In this case, the state order is:
- Ohio – 1.16 per thousand jobs
- West Virginia– 1.14 per thousand jobs
- Alabama – .99 per thousand jobs
- Kentucky – 0.95 per thousand jobs
- Tennessee – 0.94 per thousand jobs
Since these states have the highest concentration of PTA jobs, they might not need a traveling PTA as much. As an example, you’d be better served looking for traveling PTA jobs in RI (Rhode Island) where there are fewer than .94 PTA positions per thousand jobs.
Another thing to consider when it comes to job concentration is salary. It tends to be that the higher the concentration of PTA jobs, the greater the competition, thus the lower the PTA salary. Even when considering a traveling Physical Therapist Assistant salary, concentration can decrease your wages.
Based on all of the above data, here is a list of the top three states where you can easily get physical therapy jobs.
- Texas: It pays the highest salary, has the greatest expected job growth, and currently employs the most PTAs.
- California: It’s the third highest paying state for PTAs, has the second highest expected job growth, and the fourth highest employment rate.
- Florida: Florida offers the fourth highest PTA salary, the third greatest job growth expectation, and the third best employment rate.
However, it is important to note that there are several others factors that must be considered when finding the best location to work.
Are Physical Therapist Assistants Being Phased Out?
From available statistics, there is no indication that physical therapist assistant jobs are going anywhere anytime soon. No, PTAs are not about to be phased out. APTA is changing a bill that will allow PTAs a full vote in the house of delegates and there are thoughts of expanding the education to BS degree. It may take them a long time in coming but it is certain to be.
The change in the dynamics of disease burden in the United States is fueling the growth prospect of physical therapy services. Sources from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that the employment opportunities for PTAs are projected to grow at a rate of 40% for the period between 2014 stretching to 2024. A rate that far surprises average growth, which stands at 7%.
The shift from infectious to non-infectious chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, muscles and skeleton disorder will dictate that more physical therapy assistants will be trained to take care of patients diagnosed with chronic disorders that are bound to affect patient’s mobility.
With steady growth anticipated becoming a physical therapy assistant is a career track that offers many different opportunities for work.
Career Options for Those With a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree
Here are 10 career options for those with a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree:
Schools: Physical therapy is given to students at school to assist them with learning and mobility to become more independent and able to function better in school. Physical therapists usually work with teachers and parents to provide the best care for the student.
Rehabilitation Centers: Most rehabilitation centers are connected hospitals, where cases are generally inpatients who are recovering from a serious injury or surgery. The goal in this setting is to facilitate a more intense therapy experience for the individuals to allow them to care for themselves and return home safely.
Homes: As part of home care, physical therapist assistants are required to perform physical therapy at an individual’s residence. Patient needs for home care could vary from the elderly to small children with physical disabilities that need improvement. Home-visit physical therapy assistants are usually some of the better paid positions, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics finding the annual mean wage at $61,500.
Outpatient Clinics: Outpatient clinics are mainly private practice physical therapy offices where doctors or hospitals may refer a patient for orthopedic or other types of related muscular injuries or impairments. Salary tends to depend on the reputation of the facility, median wage in the particular city or state, and location of the office.
Occupational Environments: Yet another place where a physical therapy assistant is needed is in occupational environments. An occupational therapist assistant helps patients re-learn or improve diminished skills that they need to live and work independently. The primary goal is to help the patient return to work or be able to work better and safer. A majority of occupational therapist assistants work in hospital environments or private occupational therapists’ offices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for occupational therapist assistants is $53,240, and the job growth rate for an is the same as a physical therapist assistant at 41%.
Skilled Nursing: Skilled nursing care often involves longer term care provided mostly to elderly patients who cannot adequately care for themselves. Physical therapist assistants address some of the physical reasons the patient is having trouble such as weakness or coordination. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2012, 11% of the industries hiring physical therapist assistants were nursing home or skilled nursing facilities.
Extended Care Facilities: Extended care facilities can be a nursing home for elderly patients or a recovery center for all kinds of people needing care and recovery outside of a hospital. These patients need intensive physical therapy to regain function from injury or surgery.
Sports Training Facilities: Sports training facilities hire physical therapist assistants to help athletes develop an exercise routine or improve strength, mobility, and range of motion after an injury. These facilities often treat athletes from junior high to professional levels. Most high-level training facilities are separate and pay more to train professional athletes. Therapists may be required to have sports specialization or more knowledge/experience to get the job.
Fitness Centers: Physical therapist assistants may work at a fitness center to provide a more tailored workout to a wider variety of individuals who may have minor injuries while exercising. Salary and career growth for a fitness center is dependent on the individual center but larger facilities may allow for better pay, benefits and scheduling.
Hospitals: Physical therapy assistants working in hospitals work with patients immediately following an accident or surgery though this may not always be the work environment. Psychiatric and substance abuse facilities may require an in-house physical therapist assistant.