While many college students are struggling to find a job in today’s sluggish economy, a rising demand for physical therapist assistants (PTA) offers many employment opportunities in the healthcare industry.
With baby boomers requiring more care as they age and a growth in the U.S.’s population, physical therapy is in high demand across the country.
PTA Job Description
PTAs work directly with the physical therapist to ensure care is met, helping patients regain their mobility after illness, injuries, or surgery.
Physical therapist assistants assist with the development and evaluation of care plans to assure all patients access the physical therapy services to attain pre-injury status without the need of surgery, implementing various physical therapy techniques to carry out the care plan, including:
- Therapeutic exercise
- Functional training
- Deep soft tissue massage
- Physical modalities
Most PTAs work full time in the healthcare industry, but the days and hours vary according to the job sector.
Physical therapist assistants who work in clinics or private offices tend to work more evenings and weekend hours, accommodating patients’ schedules. Although approximately 28 percent of PTAs work part-time hours, PTAs can find employment in a variety of work settings, depending on their career focus.
- Acute care: With acute care, physical therapy assistants provide treatment to patients admitted to hospitals for short-term care due to an illness, accident, surgery, or trauma.
- Extended care facility: Whether the setting is at a nursing home or in an extended care facility, physical therapy assistants’ main goal is to provide long-term rehabilitation care for elderly patients.
- Government agencies: Employed by federal agencies like the Department of Defense, Veteran’s Health Administration, and Indian Health Service, PTAs provide physical therapy treatment to military personnel and civilians as needed.
- Home healthcare: PTAs rehabilitate patients who are suffering from developmental disabilities or injuries at their place of residency, such as the caregiver’s home, emergency room, nursing facility, group home, or hospice.
- Hospice: Providing care for patients with incurable diseases, physical therapy assistants help patients in the last stages of the disease maintain their functional abilities and manage pain for as long as possible.
- Occupational Environments: Physical therapy assistants help employees return to pre-injury status quickly so that they can return to work. PTAs work with industries to enhance employee health, increase workplace productivity, and improve safety.
- Outpatient clinics: In the private practice sector, physical therapy assistants visit clinics, healthcare facilities, and offices to address neuromuscular and musculoskeletal injuries and impairments.
- Research centers: PTAs assist physical therapists with conducting research to help improve the outcome of patient care, supporting the physical therapy sector.
- Sub-acute care: PTAs provide care to patients at a rehabilitation center or special hospital, offering intense therapy for three or more hours per day to improve the patient’s mobility.
- Schools: Taking place in pre-schools, elementary, and secondary schools, physical therapy assistants provide treatment in an educational environment.
Physical Therapist Assistant Employment Demand
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment for PTAs will increase by 45 percent by 2020, which is faster than the national occupation average, and will provide aspiring PTAs with job security.
Presently, approximately 72 percent of physical therapy assistants work in privately owned clinics or hospitals; whereas others work in rehabilitation units, home healthcare, or schools.
In the coming years, physical therapists are predicted to rely more on PTAs, creating more job opportunities. Delegation of responsibilities to PTAs will not only reduce the cost of services but also increase the number of patients seen at the healthcare facility.
Advances in the medical field enhance the survival percentage of newborns suffering from birth defects and trauma victims, further increasing the demand for rehabilitative services.
The following are among the top five employment industries hiring physical therapy assistants:
- Health practitioner offices
- Nursing care facilities
- General surgical and medical hospitals
- Physician offices
- Home healthcare services
Most physical therapy assistants seek positions in companies located in large metropolitan areas, even though the need for PTAs is higher in rural locations. Physical therapy assistants who are seeking higher paid positions can find employment in states like California, Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, and Florida.
PTA Annual Salaries
Depending on the employment setting, experience, and responsibilities, PTAs’ salaries vary greatly.
A recent report by the BLS showed that the annual salary for a PTA ranges from $28,580 to $63,830, with the hourly wage ranging from $13.74 to $30.69.
The highest paying jobs can be found in employment services, nursing care, and home healthcare services, offering PTAs over $50,000 for their annual salaries. Lowest paying jobs can be found in health practitioner and health physician offices.
PTA Career Focus
Physical therapy assistants can choose to hone their career focus to a specific sector in the healthcare industry by completing an advanced proficiency program administered by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
Upon completion of the recognition program, PTAs should be able to demonstrate a thorough knowledge in the particular physical therapy concentration.
Specific concentrations in the physical therapy assistant sector include:
- Acute care
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary
PTA Certification and Licensure
Before physical therapy assistants can work legally, most states require candidates to successfully complete a state national exam and obtain licensure upon graduation from an accredited physical therapy assistant program.
Requirements for state licensure and certification vary according to the state’s physical therapy practice act or physical therapy regulations. Physical therapy assistants can take their licensure exam, the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE), through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.Ready to find a school?