Physical Therapist Assistant
Physical Therapist Assistant
Education and Training: High school and associate degree
Salary: Median—$37,890 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists. They use physical treatment procedures to help improve mobility and relieve pain and disability caused by disease or injury. Physical therapists and their assistants usually work in hospitals, nursing homes, or clinics. They are part of a health care team that includes doctors, occupational therapists, and social workers.
Physical therapist assistants work with people of all ages. Some work with elderly patients who have trouble moving about. Some work with handicapped children, and others work with patients who have lost an arm or a leg, have arthritis problems, or are paralyzed. Physical therapist assistants use many different types of equipment and procedures. They treat patients by using massage, exercise, heat, cold, and light. Assistants teach patients how to use and care for wheelchairs, braces, and artificial limbs.
Assistants have other duties that give physical therapists more time to put their special training to use. Assistants may do some office work, for example, or they may get equipment ready for the therapist. They may also prepare a patient for a therapy session.
Education and Training Requirements
To become a physical therapist assistant, an individual must have a high school diploma or its equivalent. Candidates should take courses in mathematics and science in high school. Prospective physical therapist assistants can also get experience by volunteering part time in a hospital or clinic or working with handicapped children in summer camps.
Most physical therapist assistants have an associate degree from an accredited physical therapist assistant program. Some states require licensure or registration for the physical therapist assistant to practice. Most employers provide clinical on-the-job training.
Getting the Job
College placement offices can help students find jobs as physical therapist assistants. Interested individuals can also apply directly to hospitals or clinics. Another good source of job openings is newspaper want ads.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
As physical therapist assistants gain experience, they are often given more responsibility and salary increases. Some assistants continue their education to become physical therapists.
The employment outlook for physical therapist assistants is expected to grow much faster than the average through the year 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Opportunities will be best for graduates of accredited training programs. The expansion of rehabilitation services for people with physical disabilities will create many new jobs. The need for physical therapy is expected to grow as the number of people over the age of seventy-five increases. Advances in rehabilitation medicine and therapeutic techniques are likely to create additional demands.
Physical therapist assistants usually work in clean, pleasant places. Their patients may sometimes be depressed by their disabilities. Assistants can help them by being cheerful and encouraging. Physical therapist assistants should also be healthy and able to work well with their hands. Most physical therapist assistants work forty hours per week, but some work part time.
Where to Go for More Information
American Physical Therapy Association
1111 N. Fairfax St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-1488
Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
509 Wythe St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
National Rehabilitation Association
633 S. Washington St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-4109
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary with experience and place of employment. The median yearly salary for physical therapist assistants was $37,890 in May 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, and health insurance.