Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical Therapy
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A physical therapist assistant (PTA) provides therapeutic care to patients under the supervision of a physical therapist. He or she helps patients who have sustained injuries in accidents, had surgery or who are ill, regain mobility or manage their pain. A PTA may also supervise physical therapist aides.

Quick Facts

  • Approximately 71,000 people worked in this occupation in 2012.
  • Most work in physical therapists' offices or hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
  • Hours are typically full time and often include evenings and weekends.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies physical therapist assistant as a "Bright Outlook" occupation because it expects employment to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

To work in this profession, you must earn an associate degree from a physical therapist assistant training program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). For a list of CAPTE-accredited programs visit the ​American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website. There you will also find a wealth of information about this occupation.

Physical therapist assistants must have a license to practice in every state in the United States, including Hawaii, which until December 2014 did not require one.

All candidates for licensure must take the National Physical Therapy Exam, administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). Each state's physical therapy board may have additional requirements. You can find their contact information on the FSBPT website.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

  • Active Listening: You must be able to listen carefully to your patients' questions and concerns about their treatment.
  • Verbal Communication: Your patients must be able to understand your instructions for their treatment to be successful.
  • Interpersonal Skills: In addition to listening and speaking skills, you need other communication skills that will facilitate your interactions with your patients and colleagues. You need to be able to coordinate your actions with others, and you must be aware of people's reactions even if they don't verbalize them.
  • Service Orientation: To be successful in any healthcare career, you need a strong desire to help people.
  • Reading Comprehension: You must be able to understand doctors' and other healthcare professionals' written instructions.
  • Critical Thinking: When you have to solve problems, you will need the ability to weigh the potential success of possible solutions before choosing one.

The Truth About This Occupation

  • To accommodate patients' busy schedules, physical therapist assistants often have to work nights and weekends.
  • You will have to be on your feet a lot.
  • You will need to lift and move patients who have mobility problems.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    Here are some job responsibilities from actual announcements found on

    • "Assists as necessary in patient evaluation under the direction and assistance of a Registered Therapist"
    • "You will keep the treatment area clean and organized"
    • "Provide follow up treatment & feedback to the staff therapist to effectively plan for discharge"
    • "May assist in the development of treatment plans"
    • "Documents patient progress towards meeting established goals"
    • "Instruct resident's family or nursing staff in follow-through programs"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Related Occupations

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2014)Minimum Required Education/Training
    Physical Therapist AideWorks in a physical therapy office tending to tasks that aren't directly related to patient care$24,650HS or equivalency diploma
    Veterinary AssistantProvides basic care to animals in an animal hospital or clinic$23,790HS or equivalency diploma
    Occupational Therapy AssistantAssists occupational therapists in teaching patients who must relearn how to perform tasks of daily living$56,950Associate Degree from an accredited program
    Nursing AssistantProvides basic patient care under a registered nurse's direction$25,100Completion of a state-approved education program

    Additional Sources:
    Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 
    Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online

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