How Can I Become a Rehabilitation Therapy Assistant?

Explore the career requirements for a rehabilitation therapy assistant. Get the facts about educational and licensure requirements as well as job outlook and potential salary. Schools offering Rehabilitation Sciences degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Rehabilitation Therapy Assistant?

A rehabilitation therapy assistant, also known as a physical therapist assistant, works under the supervision of a physical therapist to assist patients in gaining physical strength and overcoming pain following an accident or illness. Physical therapist assistants typically help teach patients exercises that can be used to restore their full range of motion. They also assist the therapist with specialized techniques, such as ultrasound therapy, that reduce pain and promote recovery. In addition, they may have administrative responsibilities within the office of the therapist to keep the clinic running smoothly.

The following chart gives you an outline of important information to know about entering this field.

Education Required Associate's degree
Licensure Licensing requirements vary by state
Key Responsibilities Assess patient condition, help create and implement treatment plan, document patient progress and encourage and challenge patient during physical therapy sessions
Job Growth (2014-2024) 40% for all physical therapy assistant and aides*
Median Salary (2015) $55,170 for all physical therapy assistants*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Types of Positions Are Available for Rehabilitation Therapy Assistants?

Rehabilitative therapy assistants may be referred to as physical therapy assistants (PTA), according to O*Net OnLine, the U.S. Department of Labor's occupational database (www.onetonline.org). Other possible job titles include physical therapy technician (PTA) and licensed physical therapist assistant (LPTA).

What Skills Do I Need?

Since this job consists of helping physical therapists and other rehabilitation personnel with patient care, you need a combination of knowledge-based, physical, mental and emotional skills. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that it's important that you care about patients and be a team player (www.bls.gov).

The BLS also listed other skills you may need, such as experience with operating electrical stimulation, traction and ultrasound equipment. You also need to lift and maneuver patients during treatments and exercise. This may require you to engage in repetitive movements such as standing, kneeling or bending for extended periods of time. Your supervising physical therapist may also ask you to observe and report on patient response during and after treatment.

Do I Need Formal Training?

The BLS states that you need to complete at least an accredited associate's degree program to become a rehabilitation therapist assistant. While requirements vary from state to state, you need to be licensed or certified in nearly all states. In addition to coursework, some form of clinical training is generally required. You also need to take the National Physical Therapy Exam, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Some of the rehabilitative specialties you may be able to explore include pediatric, neuromuscular or cardiopulmonary therapy, reported the American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org). Administrative or teaching positions are available if you're not interested in directly caring for patients.

What Types of Classes Can I Take?

Typical programs in physical and rehabilitation therapy assistant programs cover anatomy, diseases, physical ailments, medical terminology and patient care. You can also learn about kinesiology, neurology, equipment operation, mental health and legal issues. Labs allow you to apply the principles you learn through lectures, and you can often participate in special topic seminars. Internships and other hands-on practice opportunities are usually included in accredited programs and on-the-job training programs.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A closely related job option is a career as an occupational therapy assistant. These workers assist occupations therapists, who specialize in helping patients who have physical and/or mental disabilities build the skills that they need to live independently and perform work-related tasks. Like physical therapy assistants, occupational therapists need to have an associate's degree. They can also earn professional certifications. You might also be interested in working as a technician for an orthotist or prosthetist. Orthotic and prosthetic technicians construct, adjust and repair medical support devices like braces and artificial limbs. They usually need at least a high school diploma.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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