The practice of physical therapy is becoming increasingly important in America’s healthcare sector. For individuals suffering from traumatic physical injuries, degenerative diseases, or who have been bedridden for a long period of time, effective physical therapy is a vital part of any treatment plan designed to restore their independence and health.
Because of this, professional physical therapy providers are a highly regarded and well-compensated part of a patient’s treatment team.
As a highly trained medical professional, the physical therapist assistant can enjoy excellent employment and salary options. This is especially true for those assistants who are experienced or proficient in one or more physical therapy specialties. This makes becoming a physical therapist assistant an excellent career choice in today’s economy.
Physical Therapist Assistants in the United States
Physical therapist assistants are an important part of any physical therapy treatment plan. Working with the supervising physical therapist, physician and other medical professionals, they help provide an individual program of physical therapy to their patients.
Among the most common services a physical therapist assistant (PTA) provides to his or her patients are the following:
- The PTA, in cooperation with the physical therapist and supervising physician, helps prepare a plan of physical therapy designed for the patient’s specific needs.
- They assist the patient in carrying out their physical therapy. In some cases, the PTA will physically help disabled patients carry out their exercises.
- The PTA will help train the patient and any caregivers in the safe use of exercise equipment.
- The PTA will assist home caregivers in learning how to help the patient move about the house in a safe manner.
- When working with patients who have suffered the loss of a limb, the PTA will assist the patients in learning how to effectively use prosthetic limb replacements.
Becoming a Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant
Every state requires that their PTAs be licensed before they can legally practice. While the specific requirements vary between states, the majority of states have the following requirements for licensure:
- Complete an accredited physical therapy assistant program.
- Take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).
- In some cases, the state may also require a jurisprudence exam for individuals seeking to become a licensed PTA.
In most cases, a full-time student can fulfill these requirements in approximately two years. Part-time students often require more time to complete the program, depending on their specific study plan. Most PTA programs offer part-time courses in order to accommodate students who are currently working or who have other obligations that prevent them from being full-time students.
Most states will only accept programs offered by schools that have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). This body is in charge of verifying that an accredited PTA program adheres to high standards of professional and educational excellence.
Foreign programs must be able to demonstrate that they are substantially equivalent to a CAPTE accredited program before they will be accepted by state licensing agencies.
Finally, PTAs who are already licensed in their home state may be able to obtain licensure by endorsement in another state. This allows a PTA who is moving to another state to quickly obtain the license he or she will need to work as a PTA.
However, the specific requirements for licensure by endorsement vary from state to state, so the PTA should contact the state’s licensing agency well in advance of any intended residence change.
Career and Salary Options for PTAs
Currently, PTAs are enjoying robust and growing employment opportunities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has estimated that there were 114,000 PTAs employed in the United States in 2010. The BLS estimates that this number will increase by 46 percent by 2020, adding at least 51,000 job openings.
In addition, numerous PTA jobs will open due to attrition among the currently employed workforce. These two factors will result in a very large number of vacancies in the PTA workforce that will continue to produce a high demand for newly licensed PTAs. Because of this, many new PTAs will be able to enter the workforce soon after obtaining their license.
Physical Therapist Assistant Salaries
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for PTAs is nearly $50,000. This salary level can vary depending on the location of the PTA, their experience level and whether or not they have specialized in a high demand field.
In addition, as salaried employees most PTAs also receive a number of benefits, such as healthcare insurance and paid vacations.
In general, the most highly compensated PTAs earn over $68,000, while the newest and least experienced PTAs earn about $31,000.
Presuming satisfactory job performance, newly employed PTAs can expect to see their earnings increase as they gain experience.
Wage Levels and the Local Cost of Living
One factor that impacts how much a PTA earns is the local cost of living. Urban areas tend to have higher housing and utility expenses when compared to rural areas. Because of this, some states have a generally higher cost of living than other states.
For this reason, PTAs should consider their likely cost of living in addition to their salary levels when comparing their income to other PTAs. This can be especially important for a PTA who is thinking of moving to another location.
Becoming a licensed PTA can be the gateway to a well-compensated and highly respected profession.
Due to the growing importance of physical therapy in the modern healthcare sector, PTAs are currently enjoying excellent professional opportunities.
In addition, the current professional trends in the field of physical therapy make it plain that the long-term prospects for licensed PTAs are very promising. Whether it is for a newly graduated high school student or an already employed individual seeking a more rewarding career, becoming a PTA is an excellent career choice.