Working as a Physical Therapy Assistant

By Brenda on December 3rd, 2011


Physical therapy assistants, often referred to as PTAs, are one of the growing career opportunities in health care.  The rewards are great and the job outlook is highly favorable over the next decade.  With minimal schooling required, physical therapy assistant programs are becoming highly respected among the healthcare community.

Physical Therapy Assistant Program Overview

A physical therapy assistant works under the direct supervision of a licensed physical therapist, but performs many of the same duties.  The PTA program typically takes two years to complete before a student is available to enter the employment field and work hands-on with patients.

Two year degree programs are offered at most community colleges or universities.  Choosing a program should involve a great deal of research and making sure that the program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.  Depending on the state requirements, most require licensing or certification.  This can be completed once the student finishing the two year program.

Be prepared to take prerequisite courses that involve human anatomy, physiology and some mathematics.  If pursuing an associate’s degree, other requirements may be needed depending on the school and program.

Typical Day as a PTA

A typical day as a physical therapy assistant involves assisting the physical therapist on staff with patient care and set-up.  Often a physical therapy assistant meets and greets the patient, shows them to their area of physical therapy and sets up equipment or prepares the patient for care.  The PTA takes direction from the licensed physical therapist and works in close contact with the therapist throughout the duration of the day.

PTAs assist patients who have been injured or afflicted with disease that inhibits mobility and strength.  PTAs help to relieve pain, improve strength and flexibility, and prevent future injury.  Short and long-term care patients are often seen by the PTA.

Working Conditions

A physical therapy assistant typically works five days a week, Monday through Friday, and eight hours per day.  Some opportunities involve a work schedule of four-tens, where a PTA works ten hour days for four consecutive days and then has three days off.  Most PTAs work in a hospital, medical center or out-patient facility.  Physical therapy offices may be located on the campus of a large hospital or medical facility, and in some cases the PTA may be considered an employee of the hospital.

The job can be physically demanding and requires the PTA to be in shape or possess some degree of strength.  PTAs often move or transport patients, lift patients or manipulate limbs and must be able to bend, lift and crouch for long periods of time.  Physical therapy assistants may be required to move equipment and assist patients in walking, sitting or moving in some capacity.  This requires strength and flexibility.

A career as a physical therapy assistant is highly rewarding.  Often PTAs find themselves going back to school to become a physical therapist because they enjoy the work environment so much.  The pay and benefits are good and the overall job outlook for the next ten years is highly favorable.



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