Physical therapy assistants are becoming an increasingly important component of America’s healthcare sector.
Due to the growing number of elderly and the emphasis on rehabilitation for most injuries, the ability to provide high quality physical therapy is more important than ever, which has resulted in a growing demand for professionals in this field.
The Modern Physical Therapy Assistant’s Career Options
As licensed professionals, physical therapy assistants work with physical therapists, surgeons, nurses and other medical professionals in developing and implementing individualized physical therapy treatments.
These treatments can range from short-term physical therapy designed to assist an individual to recover from a minor surgery or injury to long-term treatments for individuals who have suffered traumatic injuries.
In some cases, such as physical therapy for the elderly, the therapy may in fact be ongoing, with no set end date.
Among the common careers physical therapy assistants enter are the following:
- Providing physical therapy at private or public hospitals is a major source of employment for physical therapy assistants. The therapist assistant usually works with the hospital staff in assisting patients who have undergone surgical procedures or are recovering from an illness to regain their physical capabilities.
- Convalescent and rehabilitation centers are major employers of physical therapist assistants. These establishments focus on long-term physical therapy and in many cases accept patients who no longer require the facilities of a full-scale hospital.
- Eldercare is becoming an increasingly important field for physical therapy assistants. The elderly are more likely to suffer mobility impairment and accidents requiring physical therapy. In addition, physical therapy can be an important component of treatments designed to reduce the impact of the various types of dementia the elderly can suffer from.
- Sports medicine is a fast growing field, as the number of sports related injuries is swiftly growing. This, coupled with the awareness of how untreated injuries can result in long-term difficulties, has resulted in a growing number of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants who specialize in sports related injuries and therapy.
Physical Therapy Assistant Job and Salary Opportunities
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has determined that currently there are over 67,000 physical therapist assistants in the United States.
This number is expected to increase by about 45 percent by 2020.
In addition to the increase in the number of career openings, many currently employed physical therapy assistants will have retired before 2020, further improving the employment outlook for new physical therapist assistants.
Salary Options for Physical Therapist Assistants
Physical therapist assistants enjoy excellent wage and benefits packages in most fields. The median annual wage for physical therapist assistants is over $49,000, and this can be considerably higher, depending on the state where the individual is employed.
Experienced physical therapy assistants, or those who have specialized in a high demand field, can often earn considerably more than the average wage.
An example of the highest median state wages includes the following:
- Texas: Over $66,000.
- New Jersey: Over $57,000.
- California: Over $57,000.
- Connecticut: Over $57,000.
- Florida: Over: $56,000.
Future Salary and Employment Opportunities
With the continued rise in the demand for experienced physical therapy assistants, especially in the eldercare and sports medicine fields, it is extremely likely that wages will be driven higher by the need to attract experienced professionals.
This will create a situation in which both experienced and new physical therapist assistants may expect a rate of wage increase that will outpace the cost of living. This will increase the long-term benefits of becoming a physical therapist assistant.
Finally, the nationwide growth in the demand for physical therapy assistants will make it easier for currently employed therapy assistants to obtain new employment if they must relocate.
This can be especially important for younger professionals who may be forced to unexpectedly move due to family or personal demands.
To further accommodate this process, most states allow licensed therapist assistants to obtain licensure by endorsement in their new home.
Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant
Every state requires that physical therapist assistants be licensed in order to practice. Licensure normally requires that the student complete the following steps:
- Complete a physical therapist assistant program at an accredited institution and obtain an associate’s degree. All physical therapy programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
- Take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).
- In some states, the individual must also pass a state jurisprudence exam.
- Some states have other requirements, such as letters of recommendation from former instructors or supervisors. In addition, most states require a criminal background check before approving an individual’s license.
After completing these steps, the candidate will receive his or her license and may seek employment as a licensed physical therapy assistant.
The process of licensure dramatically improves the therapy assistant’s professional and salary options, especially when compared to fields that are not licensed by a state agency.
Becoming a physical therapy assistant is an excellent choice for many individuals. Whether the individual has newly graduated from high school and is looking for a long-term and lucrative source of employment, or is an older individual who is dissatisfied with his or her current career, the benefits of becoming a licensed physical therapy assistant are clear.
In addition to entering a well-compensated field with excellent options for professional advancement, the physical therapy assistant will be valued by his or her coworkers and the public alike.
With the growth in the physical therapy field, this field of employment will continue to be very attractive for the foreseeable future.