Obviously, once you graduate from physical therapist assistant school, you will obtain a job as a physical therapist assistant. But what exactly do physical therapist assistants do? In short, they do what the name suggests – they assist physical therapists in a number of their daily responsibilities. Many people are choosing to become physical therapy assistants because the field is experiencing remarkable growth, so there will undoubtedly be opportunities for you. Many are also forgoing the traditional physical therapist route and choosing to become assistants because the educational requirements are minimal in comparison. So if you choose or have chosen to go to PTA school, what can you expect?
Physical therapists, PT assistants, and PT aides form a three-pronged team. Physical therapists diagnose movements and injuries, set up patient treatment plans and goals, instruct patients in their exercises, evaluate patients’ progress, and educate both patients and families on what to expect. Aides deal less with patients, and spend more time cleaning treatment areas, assisting patients as they walk to and from the treatment area, and engaging in administrative tasks like answering phones or talking to insurance companies. PT assistants fall somewhere in the middle. They can work more directly with the physical therapists because they have completed relevant schooling, while aides typically are trained on the job. PT assistants do a little of everything – they observe patients during treatment time, take notes, and make recommendations to the physical therapist; they help patients complete exercises if they are struggling; they massage injured areas on the patients and help them stretch; they assist patients in using a variety of equipment, from exercise machines to walkers to wheelchairs; and they communicate with patients and their families about treatment. They might use specific techniques on the patient, such as electrical stimulation, traction, and ultrasound. PT assistants may also engage in some administrative tasks if necessary, including all the responsibilities typical of aides.
Most physical therapist assistants work in physician offices or offices directly related to physical therapy. A minority work in hospitals or in residential aide facilities. The type of work you will do might depend on where you get hired. For example, if you work in a hospital, you might deal more with patients who are at the hospital long-term because they are dealing with serious conditions, such as brain injury or disability. If you work in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you will most likely be working with elderly adults, who might be dealing with difficulties ranging from dysfunction after a stroke to mobility issues after a broken hip. People who work in physician or PT offices typically deal with a wider range of issues and will also see a lot of patients dealing with problems on a more outpatient basis, such as loss of strength after a broken bone or sports injuries.
The majority of people in this career field work full-time – about 75%. Again, your schedule will depend on where you get hired. Some places have all their PT assistants work Monday through Friday, 9-5. Many places, however, have evening and weekend hours, so you may be required to work outside of a typical schedule. Depending on your preferences, you could view this as a positive or negative to the position.
Another benefit you can expect from your future career is a good deal of job security. Because the field is growing so quickly, the number of people graduating with qualifying degrees will likely not keep up with the demand. This means you can expect to find a job fairly quickly and not face as much competition as people in some other professions. You will have the best outlook on your career if you work in a rural area, where the supply is not as great, and in a facility where more elderly will be requiring your services, such as a hospital or nursing home.