Physical Therapist Assistant Career Profile

Physical therapy is treatment for impairments in physical strength, balance or mobility resulting from injuries to the musculoskeletal system, neurological disorders (e.g. stroke, arthritis) or aging. Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) work as part of a team under the immediate direction of a physical therapist to implement selected portions of a therapy plan and track patient progress. PTAs work with patients of all ages in a variety of settings. Nearly three quarters of PTAs work in hospitals, private practices, or outpatient clinics. Other care settings include home health agencies, nursing homes and sports and fitness facilities.

PTAs often assist patients in their efforts to walk, perform exercises, or transfer from wheel chairs to therapy equipment. They might be called upon to walk, kneel, lift or stand for long periods of time. Accordingly, they must be reasonably fit.

PTAs are typically passionate about health and fitness in their personal and professional lives. They are trained to become experts in body mechanics and motivating patients to improve their ability to return to optimal physical functionality. The ideal PTA is compassionate but persistent.

What does it feel like to be a physical therapist?

Watching your patient walk for the first time after an auto accident brings a great feeling of personal satisfaction which can be even more gratifying when shared with an entire rehabilitation team. Your patient’s goal will become your goal so you will experience their achievements first hand. Patients will thank you for literally giving them back their lives. At the same time, your patients will be a daily source of inspiration. Physical therapists and PTAs report high levels of job satisfaction. US News and World Report ranks Physical Therapist Assistant as 46th among America’s 100 Best Jobs.

Roughly three quarters of PTAs work full time, on day shifts. They are typically eligible for overtime, health benefits and paid vacation.

To enter the profession, one must graduate from a two-year Associate’s Degree program which in most states must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education in order to sit for the licensure exam, if required. PTAs are not licensed in some states.

To progress in their careers, PTAs pursue Advanced Proficiency Recognition through the American Physical Therapy Associations in specialty areas such as aquatic, cardiovascular/pulmonary, geriatric or neuromuscular therapy. Some PTAs continue with their studies to pursue a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and their license.

Between 2014 and 2024, the PTA profession is expected to grow by 40 percent which is among the fastest-growing health professions and much faster than the national norm.

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