Physical Therapy Assistant: Career Summary, Job Outlook and Educational Requirements

Explore the career requirements for physical therapy assistants. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Physical Therapy Assistant?

Also known as a PTA, a physical therapy assistant works for a physical therapist and assist in the planning and implementing of therapeutic treatments. Physical therapy assistants help patients recover from illnesses, injuries and operations, with the goal of alleviating pain or regaining physical abilities that have been impaired in some way. Generally, they are employed in the offices of health practitioners or at hospitals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2015, there were over 300 associate's degree programs that were accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

The following chart gives you an overview about a career as a physical therapy assistant.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Physical therapist assistant
Key Responsibilities Assist patients with performing exercises and stretching treatments prescribed by physical therapist; observe patients during treatment and report status to physical therapist; assist patients with using devices and equipment during therapy; perform massage therapy
Licensure and/or Certification All states require licensure
Job Growth (2014-2024) 41%*
Median Salary (2015) $55,170*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will My Job Duties Be as a Physical Therapy Assistant?

Under the supervision of a physical therapist, you'll help restore function, coordination and movement in patients. You might be working with a wide range of debilitating injuries and diseases, including neck and back pain, work and sports injuries, strokes, amputations, broken bones and sprains. Some tasks you'll perform involve preparing patients for treatment and keeping the injured area clean. You can also assist with the patient's mobility through methods such as exercise, electrical stimulation, balance training and massage therapy. You'll provide the physical therapist with updates on the patients' progress and response to various treatments, as well as perform administrative tasks, including filling out forms, ordering inventory and answering telephones.

What Will My Job Outlook Be Like?

As of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) listed that there were 81,230 physical therapy assistants working in the United States. A majority of the jobs were in hospitals or health practitioner offices. You may also work in such settings as patient homes, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. The BLS predicted that between 2014 and 2024, jobs for physical therapy assistants would increase by 41%, which was a much more rapid growth than normal.

The increased demand was anticipated due to a greater number of people expected to require physical therapy services, such as a growing elderly population and their frequent need for therapeutic treatments. Technological advances also factored into the job growth because, as projected by the BLS, more people would survive traumatic injuries and also require therapeutic care.

The BLS also stated that as it became more cost effective for physical therapy assistants to perform some of the responsibilities traditionally handled by physical therapists, there would be a growing need for their services. The median annual salary for physical therapy assistants was $55,170 in May 2015.

What Educational Requirements Do I Need to Attain?

Depending on the state you seek employment in, you'll most likely need a 2-year associate's degree from an approved community college or university program. If possible, ensure that the American Physical Therapy Association's Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education accredits your program. Physical therapy assistant programs will provide you with academic instruction and clinical experience. Your curriculum may include classes such as rehabilitation techniques and applications, first aid and CPR, kinesiology and therapeutic exercise.

All states stipulate that physical therapy assistants must hold licenses. Before being granted a license, you'll need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. Individual state examinations may also be required, depending on your location. Continuing education courses might be necessary to retain your license. You may want to obtain the latest information from your state's licensing authority.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a few careers that require similar education backgrounds and have similar responsibilities as a physical therapy assistant. Dental assistants must have a postsecondary diploma or certificate, while occupational therapy assistants need an associate's degree. A dental assistant's duties may range from the administrative, such as recordkeeping and appointment scheduling, to the clinical, such as performing x-ray procedures. Occupational therapy assistants work with occupational therapists to help individuals recover or develop the skills necessary to perform everyday living activities.

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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