Physical Therapy Assistant
What does a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) do? Research academic programs, degrees and career options for PTAs, who provide services under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.
Becoming a Physical Therapy Assistant, What Does it Take?
Physical therapy helps many people recover from traumatic accidents, deal with disabling pain or muscle issues and maintain a better quality of life with afflictions such as arthritis and heart disease. According to the United States Department of Labor, this important field is expected to grow by 35 percent from the period of 2008 to 2018, which is much faster growth than the average rate for all other occupations. Insurance reimbursement restrictions for physical therapy services have been changed, which allows more patients to seek care. The increasing numbers of aging baby boomers also require rehabilitative care, meaning the job outlook for physical therapy assistants will remain strong for the next several years.
What is a Physical Therapy Assistant?
A physical therapist, or PT, assistant is a person who works alongside a physical therapist to provide necessary treatment to patients. PT assistants help patients who have back pain, arthritis, heart disease, joint replacements and injuries from accidents. People who have undergone surgery or have physical disabilities also seek treatment with physical therapy.
With the help and guidance of a physical therapist, a PT assistant helps patients work through exercises and applies different therapeutic treatments such as massage, electrical stimulation, balance and gait training, ultrasound and mechanical traction. As PT assistants take their patients through therapy, they record each patientís response to the treatment and keep the physical therapist updated with the patientís status. With the help of a PT assistant and physical therapist, patients may increase their mobility, find relief from pain and lessen or prevent different types of physical disabilities.
The Work Environment
The PT assistant job is great for anyone who likes to stay in shape. The job requires assistants to apply a moderate amount of exertion and have the strength to help patients with certain types of treatment. Some patients may not be fully mobile and will need the assistant to lift them. The job also requires frequent kneeling, bending, stooping down and PT assistants also spend a lot of time standing.
A PT assistant job is perfect for those who want a full-time work schedule, but it also provides flexibility and many options for those who prefer to work part-time. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 28 percent of all PT assistants work part-time hours. Many physical therapy clinics and outpatient offices operate during weekend and evening hours to treat patients that work during the day.
Most PT assistants are required to obtain an associate degree from an accredited program for PT assistants. Most states also require PT assistants to maintain a license. Prior to completing an associate degree, it may be possible to work as a physical therapy aide and receive some training on the job.
Most states have legal requirements for PT assistants that include an associate degree. In 2009, accredited programs providing an associate degree numbered at 223, most with a duration of two years. Associate degree programs receive accreditation from the American Physical Therapy Associationís Commission on Accreditation for Physical Therapy Education.
The school programs include hands-on experience in a clinic setting in addition to the required academic classes. Academic courses include English, algebra, psychology, physiology and anatomy. Students will receive certifications for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other components of first aid care and gain experience in the field through work at patient treatment centers. The work in a clinical setting is considered an important part of educating students on the responsibilities of PT assistants.
With new developments in medical technology, more patients are surviving trauma and birth defects, creating increased demand for physical therapists and assistants. Physical therapists will need to rely on PT assistants to work with more patients and keep the costs of care down. Once a physical therapist assembles a treatment plan for a patient, a PT assistant can carry out most of the work with the patient. These developments mean demand will continue to increase for PT assistants well into the future.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PT assistants are employed in the highest numbers through offices of private health practitioners. General hospitals are the second largest employers, followed by nursing and home health care service providers. Based on surveys performed in 2010, the median annual wages for PT assistants were $49,690, or $23.89 per hour. Overall wages range from $31,070 to $$68,820, or $14.94 to $33.09 on an hourly basis.
The industry that pays the most for PT assistants is Home Health Care Services. Elder care facilities have the lowest wages, but this could be in part due to part-time schedules. Ohio, California and Texas have the highest levels of employment for PT assistants, and Texas has the highest wage in the nation for the job, averaging $62,440 per year.
Choosing the Right Physical Therapy Assistant School
Working as a physical therapist requires a graduate degree, and if you are not ready for that commitment, the associate degree program for PT assistants is a good alternative. Choosing the right school depends on many different criteria. Individuals who have an interest in becoming a PT assistant may want to look for programs in their area and assess the coursework and costs before applying. Also, ask yourself how interested you are in science-based classes, since the coursework involves tough subjects such as biology, chemistry and algebra. Additionally, associate-level degree programs offer different curriculums for broad studies or more specific training such as occupational therapy. Some students also complete their degrees online due to the flexible nature of the programs.