Sections

Physical Therapist Assistant Career Guide

Are you compassionate, caring and strong? Are you looking for a career where you can make a real difference to someones life?

If yes, then we think you may thrive in a career as a physical therapist assistant.

Physical therapist assistants work under the direction, guidance and supervision of experienced physical therapists to provide high quality client care.Typically, they help patients who are recovering from injuries and illness to regain movement and manage pain.

To become a physical therapist assistant must complete an associate’s degree from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

Working in an office setting is okay for some people, but you’re sick of staring at a screen for hours on end. In today’s era of technology, a solid career that gets you up and moving can be hard to find. Luckily for you, physical therapist assistant is one job title that fits the bill! As a physical therapist assistant you’d be frequently on the move and physically active—you’ll help move and set up equipment, guide patients through rehabilitation exercises and physically assist them as they move through rehabilitation facilities.

Ashley Brooks

Physical Therapist Assistant Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Overview

What a physical therapist assistant does

Physical therapist assistants work under the direction, guidance and supervision of experienced physical therapists to provide quality and evidence-based client care. Typically, they help patients who are recovering from injuries and illness to regain movement and manage pain. Physical therapist assistants can work in hospitals or privately-owned physical therapy practices. Regardless of where they work, their typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Observing patients before, during and after therapy
  • Noting the patient’s status and reporting it to a physical therapist
  • Helping patients do specific exercises that the physical therapist has put in the plan of care
  • Treating patients using a variety of techniques, such as massage and stretching
  • Using devices and equipment, such as walkers, to help patients
  • Educating patients and family members about what to do after treatment

Why they are needed

Physical therapist assistants play a critical role in the healthcare system. They help ensure that physical therapists can offer the best possible care by sharing the workload and reducing their stress. Physical therapist assistants are needed to help people reduce their pain, avoid surgery, recover from surgery, recover from strokes, enhance their mobility, manage age-related diseases or manage heart and lung diseases.

Pros and cons of a career as a physical therapist assistant:

Pros:

  • Physical therapist assistants are in demand, creating many exciting job opportunities
  • Physical therapist assistants get to work in a friendly and non-competitive work environment
  • Physical therapist assistants get to help people each and everyday, making it a very rewarding and satisfying job
  • Physical therapist assistants can work in a variety of environments, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, clinics, schools, gyms or nursing homes
  • No two days are the same

Cons:

  • The workload can be demanding and the hours can be odd and long
  • It can be a physically demanding job, as physical therapist assistants may have to lift or manoeuvre patients
  • They may have to work with difficult patients who are aggressive, stubborn or confrontational
  • It can be an emotionally and physically draining career
  • Physical therapist assistants are always under the supervision of someone else

Employability

Job market

The Bureau of labor statistics predicts that the employment of physicals therapist assistants is projected to grow 33 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

This employment growth is expected because the demand for physical therapy is expected to increase in response to the needs of the aging baby-boom population. These baby boomers also are entering the prime age for heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries, increasing the demand for physical therapy needed for rehabilitation. With this demand for physical therapy, comes a demand for physical therapy assistant.

In addition, more physical therapist assistants will be needed to help patients maintain their mobility and manage the effects of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. Moreover, medical and technological developments should permit an increased number of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating additional demand for therapy and rehabilitative services.

Physical therapists are expected to rely on physical therapist assistants, particularly in long-term care environments, in order to reduce the cost of physical therapy services. After the physical therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a plan of care, the assistant provides many parts of the treatment, as directed by the therapist.

Career paths

All states require physical therapist assistants to have an associate’s degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. These programs typically last about 2 years and include coursework in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. Assistants also gain hands-on experience during supervised clinical work.

Example Job Titles for Physical Therapist Assistant

Below is a list of common job titles in the Physical Therapist Assistant field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physical therapist assistants was $58,790 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,450 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,840.

The top paying industry was nursing care facilities, where the median annual salary was $66,840. This is followed by home healthcare services ($63,200), offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists ($57,520), hospitals ($57,140) and then offices of physicians ($55,490).

Autonomy and Flexibility

The autonomy and flexibility of a physical therapist assistant depends on where they work. Some physical therapist assistants who work in locations, where they are given more responsibility by the physical therapist assistant who supervises them, will have more autonomy and flexibility than other physical therapist assistants. However, generally speaking, physical therapist assistants will have control over their decisions. But, this is limited by the need to consult senior physical therapist assistant. Flexibility is perhaps lower, as physical therapist assistants will normally always work in busy settings and will have little control over the hours they work.

Locations and commute

According to Zippia, the best states to be a physical therapist assistant, based on salary and total number of jobs, were:

  1. Mississippi, where the average annual salary is $57,837
  2. Alabama, where the average annual salary is $57,601
  3. South Carolina, where the average annual salary is $56,706
  4. Kentucky, where the average annual salary is $57,045
  5. Oregon, where the average annual salary is $58,939

The worst states for physical therapist assistants were New York, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida and Illinois.

Work environment

46% of physical therapist assistants in the United States worked for offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists. 23% were employed by hospitals, 10% by nursing care facilities, 8% were employed by home healthcare services and a final 5% by offices physicians.

Physical therapist assistants will spend much of their time on their feet and will be constantly moving around and setting up equipment. They are also vulnerable to injuries because physical therapist assistants need to lift and move patients. As part of their training, however, they will be taught proper lifting and body mechanic techniques.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Physical Therapist Assistant careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Physical Therapist Assistant career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Physical Therapist Assistant.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DISC

  • None

Enneagram

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

Personality types

Physical therapist assistants will need to be energetic and enjoy socializing with lots of people. Due to the nature of the work, and working with trauma victims, physical therapist assistants need to be able to raise the spirits of those around them. They also tend to have talkative, enthusiastic and fun-loving personalities.

Accomplishment and mastery

Accomplishment and mastery is likely to be high for physical therapist assistants, who can gather all the knowledge and skills required to treat patients far quicker than physical therapist.

Throughout their career, physical therapist assistants are likely to continue to feel accomplished as they help those in need. However, this may be limited in some senses, as physical therapist assistants require the supervision of physical therapists.

Meaning and contribution

Physical therapist assistants have the hugely important job of helping those with disabilities, injuries or illnesses. Their work is crucial, because they greatly improve the lives of their patients, and they help take the workload of physical therapists.

Life fit

Most physical therapist assistants will work normal full time hours. Some physical therapist assistants might have to be on call, and therefore will have to work evenings and weekends. However, there is part time work available for physical therapist assistants, which makes it a career with a great life fit.

Who will thrive in this career?

There are a few key qualities that physical therapist assistant must have in order to thrive:

  1. The desire to help others
  2. Compassion and empathy for other people
  3. The ability to be completely non-judgemental about people
  4. The ability to solve problems quickly and efficiently
  5. A naturally gentle personality that will make patients’ feel safe and trusted

Who will struggle in this career?

Those who are seeking a desk job that doesn’t involve interacting with lots of people are likely to struggle as a physical therapist assistant. If you are not physically fit then you may struggle to keep up with the demands of job, which involves lifting heavy things and standing up all day. Finally, those who are not naturally gentle and compassionate are likely to struggle with the social and caring demands of the job.

Requirements

Skills and talents

As well as being able to endure standing up all day and lifting patients, physical therapist assistants need to have skills such as:

  • Problem solving skills, as physical therapist assistants will have to find solutions when the physical therapist assistants plans don’t always work
  • Compassion, as physical therapist assistants need to be able to understand the pain and trauma of their patients and should enjoy helping people
  • Teamwork skills, as physical therapist assistants need to be able to work as part of a cohesive team with other healthcare professionals
  • Time management skills, as physical therapist assistants will treat several patients a day and must also be able to complete any administrative tasks
  • Dexterity, as physical therapist assistants will have to use their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises

Education

Physical therapist assistant must complete an associate’s degree from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. These programs typically last about 2 years and include coursework in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology.

Certifications

All states require that physical therapist assistants are licensed or certified. Licensure typically requires graduation from an accredited physical therapist assistant program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam for physical therapist assistants. The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Some states require that applicants pass an exam on the state’s laws regulating the practice of physical therapy assistants, undergo a criminal background check, and be at least 18 years old. Physical therapist assistants also may need to take continuing education courses to keep their license.

Additionally, physical therapy assistants may earn certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), or other first-aid skills.

How to Become

Summary

Physical therapist assistants play a huge role in society. They work under the direction, guidance and supervision of experienced physical therapists to provide high quality client care. Typically, they help patients who are recovering from injuries and illness to regain movement and manage pain by treating patients using a variety of techniques, helping patients with specific exercises or educating family members.

The aging baby-boom population is expected to create a demand for physical therapy over the coming years. Therefore, there is a high demand for physical therapist assistants.

Immediate action

The best thing you can do to kickstart any career is to gather some work experience. Work experience related to becoming a physical therapist assistant includes working in a hospital or volunteering in a care home. To have the best chances of getting accepted onto degree programs, you should also aim to have as many extracurricular activities as possible.

Education and learning

Physical therapist assistant must complete an associate’s degree from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. These programs typically last about 2 years and include coursework in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology.

Skill development

In many states, continuing education is typically required for physical therapist assistants to keep their license. Therefore, skill development is high and continuous throughout the entire career of a physical therapist assistant.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Physical Therapist Assistant careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date

Resources