Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant

A career as a physical therapist assistant is a very hands-on job that puts you up close and personal with your clients each day. You'll need enthusiasm, patience, great communications skills and should be good with your hands. If you're considering further education and a career as a licensed physical therapist, studying and working as an assistant physical therapist is a great first step. It will give you a first-hand view of the physical therapy field and an opportunity to see if it's work you'd enjoy long-term.

Facts about Physical Therapist Assistant Careers

  • Physical therapists assistants must give clear instruction and direction on rehabilitation treatment to patients.

  • Physical therapists assistants work under the direction of a certified physical therapist to give therapeutic treatments and exercises to patients for rehabilitation.

  • Therapeutic treatments you'll administer and give instruction on include massage, stretching, cold- and hot-pack application and bathing.

  • Physical therapy work can be both emotionally and physically demanding as clients struggle with the discomfort and strain from difficult treatment designed to rehabilitate.

Education/Training Need to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

To seek training as an assistant physical therapist, most programs require only a high school diploma. Typical physical therapist assistant degree programs are completed as an associate’s degree, from an accredited program. Some states require licensure or registration for the physical therapist assistant to practice. Most employers provide clinical on-the-job training and some even provide continuing education opportunities.

What to Expect as a Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapy can be very rewarding as you work with a licensed physical therapist to assist patients with injury and post-surgical rehabilitation. The hours can be challenging and require evening and weekend work. Patients will need a healthy amount of patience and encouragement to make progress. Your instruction will be hands-on making sure the patients:

  • are doing their stretches or exercises correctly,
  • understand the outlined schedule of treatment,
  • receive icing or heating of the affected area as needed, and
  • are evaluated periodically for projected progress.

Patients are routinely referred for physical therapy from their doctor for specific treatment over a prescribed amount of time.

Typical Physical Therapist Assistant Salaries

With a proper associates degree as an assistant physical therapist, salaries average about $43,000, consistently across the country. There isn't a tremendous opportunity for increased pay as you will need additional education and training to progress and become a licensed, certified physical therapist. However the work is secure and the industry has a variety of opportunities for employment.

The Future of Physical Therapist Assistant Careers

The projections for job growth for physical therapist assistants is expected to be much faster than the average for all careers and is even listed among the country's twenty-fastest-growing careers. Due to the aging demographics of the US population, more and more people will continue entering the elderly bracket and require more physical therapy. In addition, as cost-cutting becomes more of a priority for businesses to remain competitive, assistants will continue taking more of the workload from the licensed physical therapists so companies can keep their costs down with more inexpensive employees.