How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant

If you’re looking for career options with potential, consider the field of physical therapy. With an aging population that appreciates the health benefits of exercise and non-invasive medical procedures, the demand for physical therapy related jobs is expected to grow more rapidly than other occupations (30% vs. just 7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). And one of the best ways to enter the field is as a Physical Therapy Assistant.


What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is a healthcare specialty focused on both the prevention and rehabilitation of problems related to functional mobility. Physical Therapists work with patients on everything from sports injuries to stroke, arthritis, accident recovery, amputation, and more.

Newly licensed Physical Therapists must have a doctorate degree, requiring three years of college in addition to a bachelor’s degree.


What Does a Physical Therapy Assistant Do?

As a licensed Physical Therapy Assistant, your job would be to assist a Physical Therapist in all aspects of patient care. You would work directly with patients, helping them with exercises and training them in the use of physical therapy equipment such as resistance tubing or bands. You would monitor patient progress, collect patient data, and report back to the Physical Therapist. It is a challenging yet rewarding profession.

Occupational settings could include private practices, hospitals, schools, sports or fitness facilities, or nursing homes.


How Do You Become a Physical Therapy Assistant?

Physical Therapy Assistants must pass a licensing exam. Before taking the exam they must graduate with an associates degree from an accredited PTA program. These degrees generally take two years and are available from more than 300 schools nationwide. Schools must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

Topics of study will include anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, clinical pathology, neuroscience, kinesiology, behavioral science, and general education.

The reward for the hard work is a job with a median pay (as of 2017) in the range of $57,000 per year. That’s significantly higher than for assistant jobs in other medical professions, such as dental or nursing.


What Other PT Jobs are Available?

A Physical Therapy Assistant should not be confused with a Physical Therapy Aide. A Physical Therapy Aide works in the same office but performs non-medical duties. An aide will help patients in or out of the room, clean, and take care of clerical tasks.

A position as an aide requires no special training beyond a GED or high school diploma. The pay is less than half that of the Physical Therapy Assistant. Although aides may gain experience working in the office, they cannot be advanced to the role of an assistant without going through the required education and licensing process.