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Physical Therapist Assistant

What is a Physical Therapist Assistant? 

Physical Therapist Assistants are employees that work under the supervision of qualified Physical Therapists to help provide therapy services to patients. They work with patients who require treatment to regain physical function lost to illnesses, injuries or other medical issues and/or manage symptoms, including pain. Physical Therapist Assistants are often referred to as PTAs in the workplace. 

Job Responsibilities of Physical Therapist Assistants

Physical Therapist Assistants aid Physical Therapists and other healthcare professionals in providing direct care to patients. The specific duties they perform in the workplace as they fulfill that role vary from one employment setting to another. Additionally, since healthcare regulations differ from state to state, the exact duties a Physical Therapist Assistant performs can depend upon the state in which they practice. However, there are some general duties that most can expect to be responsible for, in their day-to-day routine, including: 

  • Helping patients perform specific exercises and activities, to increase strength, mobility, balance and/or coordination 
  • Treating patients using massage, stretching or range of motion exercises 
  • Observe and report patients’ progress during therapy and routine care 
  • Assist patients with the use of equipment, such as crutches, canes, walkers and other mobility aids/adaptive devices 
  • Instruct and educate patients on what to expect during and after treatment 

Common Employment Settings for Physical Therapist Assistants

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest employers of physical therapist assistants were as follows: offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists, Home healthcare services, hospitals; state, local, and private, offices of physicians, and nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities). 

Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they set up equipment and help and treat patients. Assistants and aides can limit these risks by using proper techniques when they work with patients.

Physical Therapist Assistants: Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that overall employment of physical therapist assistants and aides is projected to grow 26 percent from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations.  

About 24,300 openings for physical therapist assistants and aides are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.  

Demand for physical therapy is expected to increase in response to the health needs of an aging population, particularly the large baby-boom generation. This group is staying more active later in life than previous generations did. However, many baby boomers also are entering the prime age for heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries, increasing the demand for physical therapy in rehabilitation.  

In addition, more physical therapist assistants and aides will be needed to help patients maintain their mobility and manage the effects of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity.  

Physical therapists are expected to rely on physical therapist assistants, particularly in long-term care environments, in order to reduce the cost of physical therapy services. This should contribute to employment growth of physical therapist assistants. 

What can I do with a Physical Therapist Assistant Associate Degree?

Earning a Physical Therapist Assistant associate degree is required to become a Physical Therapist Assistant in all states. By earning this 2-year degree, graduates meet the educational standards to pursue careers as Physical Therapist Assistants in virtually all employment settings that employ these professionals. 

Additional Training/Requirements

Every state requires Physical Therapist Assistants to be licensed or certified by the state before entering the field. Typically, to be licensed, candidates must be graduates of an accredited associate degree program and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam for Physical Therapist Assistants. In some states, applicants must pass state-level exams as well, demonstrating knowledge of state regulations on the practice of Physical Therapist Assistants. Many states require that candidates for Physical Therapist Assistant license or certification undergo criminal background checks and be at least 18 years of age. In some states, maintaining a license or certificate may require the completion of continuing education courses every year. 

For more insights into the Physical Therapist Assistant field, visit the Healthcare Degrees section of the Bryant & Stratton College blog. By exploring the blog and our website, you will find a great deal of helpful information that can help you learn about careers in the Physical Therapy field or any other occupational field that you may be interested in pursuing. 

While these projections can help career-minded people evaluate potential employment fields, it is important to note that job market data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook is only intended to provide insight on occupational opportunities. It should not be construed as a guarantee of salary or job title. Neither BLS nor Bryant & Stratton College can guarantee employment in any field.

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