Physical therapy assistants, or PTAs, are a burgeoning work force with more prospective students interested in joining the fold at every moment. There’s a number of reasons for this, including job security and growth, a relatively quick and clear path to a new career, and high job satisfaction for starters. Whatever your reasoning may be for wanting to become a PTA however, you need to know what exactly it is that a physical therapy assistant does, and what kind of job they actually have.
As the name of the job and career imply, a physical therapy assistant’s overarching mission day-to-day is to assist the physical therapists in a particular setting. From there, there is a wide range of specific tasks or duties that a PTA may be called upon for. In many ways, much of the nitty-gritty aspects of physical therapy are handled by the PT assistants.
Beyond diagnosing and developing treatment plans, which is left for the full physical therapists, PTAs will often be the ones administering treatment or guiding a patient through a physical therapy session. As mentioned, diagnosing is out of this realm, but a PTA will be responsible for keeping track of a patient’s progress, noting how they respond to various plans or treatments, and relaying this back to the physical therapist. Together, they may then work up a revised treatment plan or schedule, and the PTA may receive new instruction for what to do with a particular client or patient.
PTAs can generally work in any setting where there is physical therapy, and the majority of these individuals work in either hospitals or private health care clinics or physician’s offices. Others work in home health, rehabilitation or nursing settings, to name a few. PTA’s can also receive specialized certificates or recognition for different subfields of physical therapy, such as pediatrics or geriatrics.
It’s also extremely important to distinguish between physical therapy assistants and physical therapy aides. PT assistants are licensed individuals who have completed an accredited associate’s degree program, passed a national examination, and more.
PT aides are not licensed and are generally not regulated by the state. They hold fewer responsibilities and typically only a high school level degree with on the job training is required. They’ll be responsible for more office-related tasks, and will be assisting and receiving the direction of actual PT assistants. It’s not unusual for a PT aide already in the work force to complete an educational program to become a full PT assistant.
As you can see, physical therapy assistants have a lot on their plates. It’s a broad role, to be the all-purpose assistant to a physical therapist, and as a licensed professional, you’re able to fully take part in treatment, testing, therapy sessions and more. It’s a wonderful and rewarding career, and it’s also a great starting point for those interested in eventually pursuing full physical therapist status but who want to get into the workforce and begin with their careers in a shorter time frame.