Physical therapist assistants are professionals under the supervision of physical therapists (PTs) who help reduce pain and increase mobility in patients recovering from ailments and injuries. PTAs observe patients and report what they see to their supervising PT and help patients through massage, stretching, and assisting in exercises. They may also assist patients by providing them with equipment (such as canes or walkers) that can improve mobility. Finally, PTAs educate families on post-treatment steps.
How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2020 there are several steps you must take in order to become a physical therapist assistant:
Step 1: Complete a Physical Therapist Assistant Program
In order to practice as a physical therapist assistant, you must earn an associate’s degree through a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. These programs are typically 2 year programs, including coursework and hands on clinical experience
Step 2: Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
The next step to becoming a PTA is to pass the NPTE. In order to sit for the exam, you will need to apply for an authorization to test from your state and then register for the exam upon receiving authorization. You may need to complete additional requirements to get approval from your state, such as a jurisprudence exam or a background check, so check with your state licensing authority on what the requirements are. To pass the exam, you must earn a score of at least 600.
Step 3: Get Licensed as a Physical Therapist Assistant
Since you already submitted information to your state in order to become authorized to test, you may not need to do anything else to get certified. Always check with your state licensing authority to see if there are additional steps you must take after passing the exam before that license comes in the mail!
Where do Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
PTAs can work in a variety of settings. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), the majority of PTAs (60%) work in the offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Another 22% work in hospitals. The remaining 18% are spread out over various healthcare and government settings.
Physical Therapist Assistant Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Physical Therapist Assistants make $59,770 per year on average, with the top 10% highest earners making $82,470 per year. Demand for physical therapist assistants is expected to grow 29% (much higher than the average for all careers) from 2019-2029.
How Do PTs and PTAs Work Together?
Physical therapist assistants are directly supervised by physical therapists. They will observe patients on behalf of the PT and report their findings so that the PT can formulate treatment plans. PTAs will carry out a PT’s treatment plan by helping patients complete exercises, providing equipment needed for therapy sessions, and providing other treatments such as stretching and massage. Finally, PTAs evaluate patient performance and report on treatment results so that the physical therapist can evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment plan and make adjustments if necessary.