The modern American healthcare sector is placing an increasing amount of emphasis on integrating physical therapy as a part of any full-spectrum course of medical care.
Whether it is as a method to help the victims of traumatic injuries to regain their full physical function or as a process of reducing the impact of degenerative illnesses, physical therapy has become a vital part of any patient’s course of treatment.
In addition, fields such as sports medicine have long had a substantial physical therapy component that is usually administered on an outpatient basis.
For this reason, physical therapy assistants (PTAs) are a widely respected part of the field of physical therapy. These individuals work with physicians, physical therapists, registered nurses and other medical professionals in order to develop and administer an effective course of physical therapy to the patient. For that reason, PTAs are currently enjoying excellent professional and salary options.
PTAs in the Modern Healthcare Job Market
Currently, qualified PTAs are enjoying excellent career options in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently estimates that there are over 71,000 PTAs in America. By 2022, this number is expected to increase to over 100,000. This is a job growth rate of at least 41 percent, which is far higher than the average rate of job growth for all professions.
In addition, PTAs enjoy excellent salary options. The annual median income for a PTA is currently over $52,000. This salary can vary from state to state, depending on the state’s current cost of living and the local demand for qualified PTAs.
In addition, experienced PTAs or those who have obtained certification in high demand fields may earn considerably more.
The top 10 percent of PTAs earn more than $72,000, making this an extremely attractive field for individuals seeking a secure and well-compensated career.
The Limits to PTAs
However, it is important to note that PTAs have a number of limits as to what duties they are allowed to perform. In fact, it is vital that all practicing PTAs be fully aware what their professional and legal responsibilities are in order to avoid the potential for infractions that may see the PTA facing professional or legal sanction.
Licensing and Certification
Currently, all PTAs who are practicing in the United States must be licensed by the state in which they are currently practicing. In some cases, those PTAs who were employed before having a license was made mandatory in their state may obtain a license by demonstrating their experience and qualifications. However, all new PTAs must complete various state mandated courses of education and testing before they can obtain a license.
In some cases, PTAs who are licensed in another state may obtain a license by endorsement if they can demonstrate that the standards for licensure in their home state are substantially equal to the requirements in the state that they are currently seeking licensure from. In addition, PTAs who have received their education via a foreign program must be able to demonstrate that the program they graduated from is substantially equal to an accredited domestic PTA program.
Finally, most states mandate that any candidates complete a jurisprudence examination. Passing this examination demonstrates that the PTA is fully aware of his or her responsibilities under state and federal law. Because individual states have differing regulations regarding the types of services a PTA can provide, even individuals who are licensed in another state must complete a jurisprudence exam when seeking licensure.
What PTAs Cannot Do
Although a licensed medical professional, there are a wide range of services a PTA is not allowed to provide. In general, PTAs are required to work under the supervision of a qualified medical practitioner, such as a physician or physical therapist.
Those individuals will be primarily responsible for devising the treatment plan that the PTA will then carry out. For that reason, it is important that any licensed PTA avoid providing those services that he or she is not qualified or legally allowed to provide.
PTAs are not qualified to diagnose a patient’s illness or condition. That service can only be provided by a qualified physical therapist or physician. PTAs must keep this in mind when interacting with their patients. In many cases, a patient or their family will discuss their current situation with the PTA. The PTA must be certain to never provide a diagnosis, even an informal one, to the patient. Not only is it illegal for the PTA to provide such a service, but the patient may then take action based on the PTAs statements. Whenever the patient asks for information that requires a diagnosis the PTA should refer him or her to the supervising physician or physical therapist.
A PTA is not allowed to prescribe drugs to his or her patient. In every case, the PTA can only administer those drugs that have been prescribed by a qualified medical professional. In addition, the PTA must ensure that he or she keeps accurate records of the use of any medications.
Many states have additional regulatory requirements regarding the use and storage of drugs that may be used as illegal narcotics. In fact, failing to comply with state requirements regarding the use, storage and disposal of these drugs may result in criminal charges being filed against the responsible parties. For this reason, a PTA must ensure that he or she always complies with the relevant regulations.
Modify Treatment Plans
A PTA is not allowed to modify the treatment plan that has been established by the supervising medical professional. If the PTAs patients are having difficulty with a course of treatment, the PTA should immediately report that fact to his or her supervisors. However, independently changing the treatment plan may result in the PTAs patients suffering injury, in addition to the professional consequences to the PTA.
PTAs provide a vast number of services to their supervisors and patients alike. By remembering what types of services that they are legally and professionally allowed to provide, a licensed PTA can ensure that his or her patients continue to receive the best possible course of physical therapy.