Physical Therapist Assistant

Overview

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) assist physical therapists in providing care to patients that improves mobility, relieves pain, and prevents or lessens physical disabilities. Under the direction and supervision of physical therapists, PTAs provide exercise and instruction; therapeutic methods such as electrical stimulation, mechanical traction, or ultrasound; massage; and gait and balance training. Physical therapist assistants record the patient’s responses to treatment and report the outcome of each treatment to the physical therapist.

Some PTAs will also have some clerical duties, such as answering the phone, filling out insurance forms and other paperwork, and ordering depleted supplies.

Details

Potential Employers

  • Hospitals
  • Offices of other health practitioners
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Home healthcare services

Work Environment

Physical therapist assistants work in specially equipped work areas, within hospitals and other healthcare settings.  Their jobs can be physically demanding, as they help patients exercise and assist them to move.  Work can require long periods of standing, and frequent kneeling stooping or bending.  The work schedule will vary depending on the facility.  Many outpatient physical therapy offices and clinics have evening and weekend hours to accommodate patients’ schedules.

Job Outlook

Employment of physical therapist assistants is expected to increase 35 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Changes to restrictions on reimbursement for physical therapy services by insurance companies will increase demand, as will the growing elderly population, which is particularly vulnerable to conditions requiring therapeutic services.  Physical therapists are expected to increasingly use assistants to provide many parts of the treatment, once the patient is evaluated and a treatment plan as been designed.  This will reduce the cost of physical therapy services, and allow the physical therapist to see more patients for evaluation and treatment planning.

Aptitudes

  • Ability to learn the techniques needed to assist a physical therapist
  • Good verbal and numerical skills
  • Ability to influence others
  • Good space and form perception and manual dexterity
  • Ability to make decisions based on observations and data
  • Ability to relate to a variety of people and work as part of a team

Education

Requirements

Physical therapist assistants must complete a 2-year education program, typically offered through a community or junior college.  Candidates receive an associate degree upon graduation.  The course of study usually includes one year of general education and one year of technical courses on physical therapy procedures and clinical experience.

Most States regulate physical therapist assistants.  PTAs are licensed by the Nebraska Board of Examiners in Physical Therapy.  To be licensed, an applicant must be at least 19 years old, have graduated from an approved program, and have passed the national exam.

Programs in Nebraska

Related / Links

Other careers that involve providing care or work under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner:

Professional Associations

Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, on the Internet at www.bls.gov