Physical therapy assistants work with patients who have physical impairments and help them improve their mobility. They provide advice on how to avoid injury, rehabilitate injuries, or recover from surgery. As a physical therapy assistant, you will need to be aware of the latest developments in technology and treatments available for your patients. The job is demanding but rewarding when you see your patient’s progress, especially if they are children. This blog will help you determine if a career as a physical therapy assistant is right for you and how to become one.
1. What Is a Physical Therapist Assistant?
A physical therapy assistant works under the direction of a licensed physical therapist. You will assist the physical therapist in the treatment of patients with injuries or disease to develop, maintain and restore their abilities for daily living activities.
Physical therapy assistants may need to move around heavy equipment, bend over patients who are seated on tables, or pull equipment that is stacked in the lower section of shelves. Physical therapy assistants may be on their feet for long periods of time, especially in larger clinics.
Most physical therapy assistants work full-time weekdays during regular business hours. Overtime is often required to meet deadlines or cover extra shifts.
2. What Are the Responsibilities of a Physical Therapy Assistant?
A physical therapy assistant will:
- Assist patients during treatment and exercise sessions to ensure that they do not receive too much or too little help.
- Use modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, traction, hot packs, ice packs, and whirlpool baths to treat the patient’s condition properly. Modalities are treatments that use electricity chemicals, hot or cold, to help patients.
- Take patients on outings such as shopping trips if their condition allows it.
- Keep records of the patient’s progress and provide feedback to the physical therapist regarding how well the patient is responding to treatment.
- May teach patients how to do range-of-motion exercises after injury or surgery.
3. What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant?
You will need an associate’s degree in physical therapy. Some employers prefer graduates of community colleges. A bachelor’s degree may be preferred by some employers or necessary for advancement. If you are interested in teaching, research, or private practice, you might want to get a master’s degree in physical therapy.
The American Physical Therapy Association offers a searchable directory of accredited programs by the state at https://apps.apta.org/accreditationsearch/. You can also find information about physical therapist assistant educational requirements on the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) website, http://www.onetonline.org.
You should look for a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
4. How Do I Become a Physical Therapy Assistant?
Physical Therapy Assistant certification is not required, but it might help you get your first job as a physical therapist assistant since some employers want all of their staff to be certified. Certification can also help you learn more about your profession and keep up with the latest developments.
The National Commission of Physical Therapy offers a national certification exam which is open to physical therapy assistants after they have graduated from an accredited physical therapy assistant program. Completing continuing education courses is required every two years for physical therapy assistants who want to maintain their certification.
5. Where Do Physical Therapy Assistants Work?
Most physical therapy assistants are employed in hospitals, outpatient clinics, or private practices. Hospitals generally have the largest number of available positions for physical therapy assistants.
What skills are needed to become a physical therapy assistant?
Some of the skills needed to become a physical therapy assistant are:
Patience – Usually, the first step to helping a patient is to create trust.
People skills – You will be working with people of all ages and backgrounds who are experiencing pain or disability.
Good communication skills – Physical therapists expect assistants to communicate well with patients, their families, and other healthcare professionals.
Organizational skills – You must keep track of a patient’s progress and any changes in his or her condition.
Physical stamina – Most physical therapy sessions last from 30 minutes to an hour, though you might be surprised at how challenging this can be.
6. What Is a Typical Day Like for a Physical Therapist Assistant?
While each day in the clinic will have some elements that are similar, there is no such thing as a typical day. Some of the things you can expect are:
- A full schedule of appointments with a variety of patients.
- Get to know the physical therapist and his or her treatment plan for your area.
- Having face-to-face encounters result in helping people regain their mobility and manage their pain.
- Physical therapy assistants may specialize in pelvic floor disorders, orthopedic rehabilitation, neurological rehabilitation, pediatrics, or geriatrics.
- The tasks you perform will depend on the state where you work and the type of client, age range, and diagnosis. Some of the things you may do include:
- Planning treatment goals with patients, therapists, and other healthcare professionals.
- Developing individualized treatment plans that are reviewed by the physical therapist on a regular basis.
- Monitoring a patient’s overall condition and reporting progress or changes to the physical therapist.
- Helping patients safely through exercises, stretches, and movements.
- Providing education about home care routines that patients need to follow.
7. What Salaries Can a Physical Therapy Assistant Expect?
The median annual salary for a physical therapy assistant was $45,710 as of May 2016. Physical therapy assistants working in the lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,600 a year.
Physical therapy assistants who work at home or in nursing homes may earn less than those employed by hospitals and outpatient clinics. Salaries can also vary based on the geographic location of the job and the type of employer. For example, PT assistants working in New York City reported a median salary of $75,000, while PT assistants working in Utah reported a median salary of $42,000.
8. What Is the Job Outlook for a Physical Therapy Assistant?
The projected growth in employment opportunities for physical therapy assistants is 34 percent through 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Physical therapists needed to assist with rehabilitative services will be responsible for about 40 percent of all new jobs for PTAs through 2022.
9. What Are the Career Advancement Opportunities for Physical Therapy Assistants?
Upon completion of an accredited physical therapy assistant program, graduates are eligible for licensure. Educational programs may also offer opportunities to gain clinical experience and leadership skills, which can help advance career options.
Some physical therapists choose to specialize in a particular area of rehabilitation or focus on treating certain types of patients or injuries. This might require additional training or continuing education courses that lead to specialization in a particular area of the field.
For example, a person interested in working with older adults might earn a postgraduate certificate in geriatric physical therapy from an accredited program. Those who wish to work with children may pursue a pediatric physical therapy assistant specialization or graduate degree.
10. What Are the Best Colleges to Study Physical Therapy?
There are several factors to consider when choosing a college or university. Some of the most important include:
Accreditation: It is very important that you choose an institution accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) or one recognized by its state licensing board.
Length of program: Depending on your professional goals, it may be necessary to enroll in a one-year postgraduate certificate program, two-year associate degree program, or four-year bachelor’s degree program.
Some of the best colleges to study physical therapy are:
- The University of Saint Augustine for Health Sciences
- Regis University
- San Jose State University
- Midwestern State University
- UC Berkeley School of Public Health
- Southern California University of Health Sciences
11. Can I Work as a Physical Therapist Assistant Without Completing My Education?
This is possible under certain circumstances. For example, if you are still enrolled in school and practicing under the supervision of an experienced physical therapist, it may be possible to work as a physical therapy assistant without completing your educational requirements. However, most states require you to have graduated from an accredited PT program before you are eligible for licensure.
12. Online Courses to Study Physical Therapy
There are a few colleges that offer online courses to study physical therapy. The benefits of taking online courses include flexibility, convenience, and the ability to learn at your own pace. However, it is important to make sure that the program you choose is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) or one recognized by its state licensing board. Following are some of the online courses you can consider taking on:
Managing Your Health: The Role of Physical Therapy and Exercise by Coursera– This course is designed for health care professionals interested in learning how to work with patients who have musculoskeletal pain, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, or neurological problems.
Physical Therapy (Theory) by Udemy– This course is designed for people interested in entering the physical therapy profession. By enrolling in this course, you will learn about the various aspects of the profession as well as how to become a physical therapist assistant.
Physical Therapy – Muscle Strength Examination, Stretching by Udemy– In this course, you will learn about the different muscle strength changes that occur in a variety of different diseases and disorders. You will also cover neuromuscular re-education.
Diploma in Physical Therapy Aide by Alison– This course is designed for people who wish to enter the physical therapy profession without pursuing a degree. After completing this course, you will be able to work as a physical therapy aide and provide crucial support to your supervising PT while learning more about the profession and its key players.
Physical therapy assistants help patients regain movement and manage pain. They work under the direction of physical therapists to provide treatments that improve patient health. If you’re interested in a career helping people recover from injuries, a physical therapy assistant career path may be right for you. In this article, we’ve outlined the steps you need to take to become a physical therapist assistant and provided information on what the job entails. We also answered some common questions about the field. If you have additional questions, be sure to reach out to your local physical therapist or contact one of our experts for more information about our Physical Therapist Assistant Program.