Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides


Quick Facts: Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides
2017 Median Pay $46,920 per year 
$22.56 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education  
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training  
Number of Jobs, 2016 140,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 30% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 42,700

Join Nextstep Career Mentorship Programs for
Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides with our partners:

Body in Balance Rehabilitation & Fitness - Linwood, NJ


Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides Career, Salary and Education Information

What Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides Do

Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain. Physical therapist assistants are involved in the direct care of patients. Physical therapist aides often do tasks that are indirectly related to patient care, such as cleaning and setting up the treatment area, moving patients, and performing clerical duties.

physical therapy assistant.jpg

physical therapist assistants and aides

Duties of Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Physical therapist assistants typically do the following:

  • Observe patients before, during, and after therapy, noting the patient’s status and reporting it to a physical therapist

  • Help patients do specific exercises as part of the plan of care

  • Treat patients, using a variety of techniques, such as massage and stretching

  • Use devices and equipment, such as walkers, to help patients

  • Educate patients and family members about what to do after treatment

Physical therapist aides typically do the following:

  • Clean treatment areas and set up therapy equipment

  • Wash linens

  • Help patients move to or from a therapy area

  • Do clerical tasks, such as answering phones and scheduling patients

Physical therapist assistants help physical therapists provide care to patients. Under the direction and supervision of physical therapists, they treat patients through exercise, massage, gait and balance training, and other therapeutic interventions. Physical therapist assistants record patients’ progress and report the results of each treatment to the physical therapist.

Physical therapist aides work under the direct supervision of a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant. They usually are responsible for keeping the treatment area clean and organized, and preparing for each patient’s therapy. They also help patients who need assistance moving to or from a treatment area. In addition, aides do a variety of clerical tasks, such as ordering supplies, scheduling treatment sessions, and filling out insurance forms. The types of tasks that physical therapist aides are allowed to perform vary by state. Contact your state licensing board for more information.


Work Environment for Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Physical therapist aides held about 52,000 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of physical therapist aides were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: 56%

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 23%

Offices of physicians: 7%

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities): 5%

Government: 3%

 

Physical therapist assistants held about 88,300 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of physical therapist assistants were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: 45%

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 23%

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities): 11%

Home healthcare services: 8%

Offices of physicians: 5%

Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they set up equipment and help and treat patients. Because they must often lift and move patients, they are vulnerable to back injuries. Assistants and aides can limit these risks by using proper techniques when they assist patients.

Work Schedules

Most physical therapist assistants and aides work full time. Some night and weekend work may be required because many physical therapy offices and clinics have extended hours to accommodate patients’ schedules.


How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant and aide

Physical therapist assistants entering the profession need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. All states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Physical therapist aides usually have a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training.

Education and Training

All states require physical therapist assistants to have an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapist assistant program. In 2017, nearly 350 associate’s degree programs for physical therapist assistants were accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

Programs typically last about 2 years. Classroom study includes courses in algebra, English, anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Assistants also gain hands-on experience during supervised clinical work. They may earn certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), and other first-aid skills.

Physical therapist aides typically have a high school diploma or the equivalent. They usually gain clinical experience through on-the-job training that can last from about a week to a month. Employers often prefer to hire applicants with computer skills.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed or certified. Licensure typically requires graduation from an accredited physical therapist assistant program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam for physical therapist assistants. The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states require that applicants pass an exam on the state’s laws regulating the practice of PTAs, undergo a criminal background check, and be at least 18 years old. Physical therapist assistants also may need to take continuing education courses to keep their license. Check with your state board for specific licensing requirements.

Physical therapist aides are not required to be licensed by state law.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Physical therapist assistants and aides should enjoy helping people. They work with people who are in pain, and they must have empathy to help their patients.

Detail oriented. Like other healthcare professionals, physical therapist assistants and aides should be organized and have a keen eye for detail. They must keep accurate records and follow written and verbal instructions carefully to ensure quality care.

Dexterity. Physical therapist assistants should be comfortable using their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. Aides should also be comfortable working with their hands to set up equipment and prepare treatment areas.

Interpersonal skills. Physical therapist assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients, their families, and other healthcare practitioners; therefore, they should be courteous and friendly.

Physical stamina. Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they work with their patients. They must often kneel, stoop, bend, and stand for long periods. They should enjoy physical activity.


salaries for Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides 

The median annual wage for physical therapist aides was $25,730 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $38,490.

The median annual wage for physical therapist assistants was $57,430 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $79,380.

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for physical therapist aides in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities): $30,240

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $28,670

Government: $26,580

Offices of physicians: $26,460

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: $24,250

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for physical therapist assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities): $66,280

Home healthcare services $62,630

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $55,770

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: $55,560

Offices of physicians: $54,480

Most physical therapist assistants and aides work full time. Some night and weekend work may be required because many physical therapy offices and clinics have extended hours to accommodate patients’ schedules.


Job Outlook for physical therapist assistants and aides

Employment of physical therapist assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of physical therapist aides is projected to grow 29 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Demand for physical therapy is expected to increase in response to the health needs of an aging population, particularly the large baby-boom generation. This group is staying more active later in life than previous generations did. However, many baby boomers also are entering the prime age for heart attacks, strokes and mobility-related injuries, increasing the demand for physical therapy needed for rehabilitation.

In addition, a number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, have become more prevalent in recent years. More physical therapist assistants and aides will be needed to manage the effects of such conditions and help patients maintain their mobility. Moreover, medical and technological developments should permit an increased percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating added demand for therapy and rehabilitative services.

Physical therapists are expected to increasingly use physical therapist assistants, particularly in long-term care environments, in order to reduce the cost of physical therapy services. Once the physical therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a plan of care, the assistant can provide many parts of the treatment, as directed by the therapist.

Job Prospects

Opportunities for physical therapist assistants are expected to be good. Physical therapist assistants will be needed to help physical therapists care for and manage more patients. However, physical therapist aides may face strong competition from the large pool of qualified people because requirements for entry are low.

Job opportunities should be particularly good in settings where the elderly are most often treated, such as skilled-nursing homes, home health, and outpatient orthopedic facilities. Job prospects should be especially favorable in rural areas because many physical therapists cluster in highly populated urban and suburban areas.

Employment projections data for Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 140,300

Projected Employment, 2026: 183,000

Change, 2016-2026: +30%, +42,700


Careers Related to physical therapist assistants and aides

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Nursing Assistants and Orderlies

Nursing assistants, sometimes called nursing aides, help provide basic care for patients in hospitals and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes. Orderlies transport patients and clean treatment areas.

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of the rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.

Psychiatric Technicians and Aides

Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. Technicians typically provide therapeutic care and monitor their patients’ conditions. Aides help patients in their daily activities and ensure a safe, clean environment

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Medical AssistantsPostsecondary nondegree award$32,480
Nursing Assistants and Orderlies$27,510
Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides$56,690
Pharmacy TechniciansHigh school diploma or equivalent$31,750
Physical TherapistsDoctoral or professional degree$86,850
Psychiatric Technicians and Aides$29,330
Dental AssistantsPostsecondary nondegree award$37,630

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm