dcsimg

Physical therapist assistants (also called PTAs) help care for patients under the direction of a physical therapist (PT). They may help patients through a variety of therapeutic methods, including ultrasound, electrical stimulation and massage. They offer exercise and instruction in areas such as balance and walking with or without the use of adaptive equipment. Because physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists, they often document patient responses and report treatment results to the physical therapist.

Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist Assistant

On the job, physical therapist assistants have many responsibilities, but most duties relate to providing direct relief and therapy to patients under the supervision of a physical therapist. On a typical day, a PTA may:

  • Apply hot or cold compresses to promote healing
  • Use ultrasound treatments to give a patient relief
  • Demonstrate — and help patients learn to perform — specific exercises as part of a treatment plan
  • Show patients how to use various types of equipment, including wheelchairs, walkers and canes
  • Provide clear instructions to patients so that they understand what they should be doing at home
  • Complete paperwork for insurance claims and patient files

The size of the clinic where a PTA works may also influence the duties they perform. In a small clinic, a PTA may do most of the tasks listed above, and within normal business hours. A large clinic, by contrast, might employ several PTAs and offer extended hours for patients. A large clinic might have staff other than PTAs to complete paperwork, but PTAs may need to work evenings and weekends.

Important Characteristics for Physical Therapist Assistants

As with all health care professions, a true desire to help patients get better is key. To succeed as a physical therapy assistant, you must also enjoy working with people, even though they are in pain. You should be able to work well as a member of a team, be able to take direction, remain highly organized and pay attention to detail.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapy assistant education is a combination of formal education and on-the-job training. You'll want to take the following steps to become a PTA:

  1. Get a high school diploma. Take classes in health sciences, especially anatomy, biology and exercise science, in high school if possible. (Or, take classes in these subjects at your local university or community college before jumping into a PTA program.)
  2. Earn a physical therapy assistant degree. Most physical therapist assistant jobs require an associate degree in physical therapy assistance from a program accredited by The American Physical Therapy Association's Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. This usually takes two years.
  3. Earn your license. While holding a license is not required to work as a physical therapy assistant, most states do require that all aspiring PTAs graduate from an accredited institution and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). Some states require a state license as well as continuing education studies. Check with the licensing board in your state for detailed requirements.

Beyond the physical therapy assistant degrees available, you can pursue the development of additional skills through the American Physical Therapy Association — skills that relate to a variety of specializations, including the following:

  • Musculoskeletal
  • Neuromuscular
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Geriatric
  • Pediatric

Career Tips

After you have worked as a physical therapy assistant for several years, you might be able to move up to an administrative position or become an instructor in a physical therapy assistant program.

Other ways to advance your career include:

  • Find a mentor who inspires you. Ideally, the physical therapist you work with should be your mentor.
  • Join a professional association such as a local chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association.
  • Pursue continuing education to stay abreast of new discoveries and treatments in the field.
  • Read journals, magazines and websites about physical therapy.

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Physical Therapist Assistant

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Physical Therapist Assistant jobs , as of 2016

     
Metro Area Total Employment Annual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 2,160 $63,710
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington 2,050 $75,260
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn 1,740 $52,920
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach 1,240 $60,370
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale 1,150 $48,420
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land 1,120 $66,710
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell 990 $54,940
Cleveland-Elyria 970 $61,240
Pittsburgh 820 $49,210
Columbus 810 $55,870

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Physical Therapist Assistants

Use our handy tool to see what employment and salary numbers look like for two different metro areas

Select State
Select Metro Area 1
Select Metro Area 2
Employment
Salary

Total employment and salary for professions similar to physical therapist assistants

Source : 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, BLS.gov

Most Popular Industries for
Physical Therapist Assistant

These industries represent at least 1% of the total number of people employed in this occupation.

Industry Total Employment Percent Annual Median Salary
Medical Office 32,360 52% $45,540
Hospital 19,050 31% $45,630
Nursing And Residential Care 6,890 11% $50,630
Office Services And Staffing 1,140 1% $52,250
Government 730 1% $42,450
Click the Visit School Site buttons to go directly to a school's website and learn more about the school and programs it has to offer. School website will open in a new tab.
Click the Request Info buttons to request more information from a representative at the school.
 
Results:  10
Matching School Ads
  • A private, accredited distance learning college based in Norcross, Georgia founded in 1987.
  • Ensures that service members, their spouses and veterans can maximize their military education benefits.
  • Gives students the option to customize monthly payments to fit their budgets and lifestyle.
  • Offers all-inclusive tuition: textbooks, learning materials, and academic support are covered in the cost.
  • Allows alumni to enroll in any future program at a reduced rate.
  • Offers training in various types of massage therapy, physical therapy/sports rehab, and personal fitness training & wellness.
  • Teaches in an environment that promotes learning and encourages empathetic and compassionate therapists.
  • Career service professionals work directly with students from the start of their program, and help them pursue employment in day spas, luxury hotels, cruise ships, and other locations.
  • Students can work in the SOCHI Massage Clinic to gain experience and build their career skills.
  • Financial aid representatives help students develop a personalized financial plan to finance their tuition.
camnpus icon
Reseda
Request Info
  • Many programs require externships, allowing students to gain real-world experience.
  • Approved A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) since 1984.
  • Offers 22 accelerated, career-focused program options including business administration, medical assisting, and more.
  • Regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
  • 11 campuses across California, with an online division as well.
camnpus icon
Visalia
Request Info
  • Offers accelerated programs w/ flexible schedules & professional instruction
  • Multiple accredited campuses across 9 states including CA, TX, NV, & PA
  • 10 + programs including Practical Nursing, Dental and Medical Assisting
  • Provides professional development training & career planning resources
  • Military Student Center (MSC) is committed to the success of military students
camnpus icon
Vista
Request Info
Start your career with training from Blake Austin College - Beauty Academy. We offer programs in cosmetology, massage therapy, and holistic health, plus a combination esthetics/massage program.
camnpus icon
Vacaville
Request Info
  • Offers career programs in accounting, cosmetology, massage therapy, physical fitness training, and more.
  • Provides hands-on training led by instructors who have relevant, on-the-job experience.
  • Each campus features a public salon and spa for student practice.
  • Campuses are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) and Council on Occupational Education (COE).
  • 11 campuses across California, Texas, Nevada and Idaho, as well as 8 additional Milan Institute of Cosmetology campuses.
camnpus icon
Sparks
Request Info
  • A Better Business Bureau (BBB) Accredited Business, with an A+ rating.
  • Computer Support Technician program is based on guidelines set by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) and Microsoft.
  • Offers free student services, including tutoring, campus internet access, career placement, and a student lounge.
  • Accredited by the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
  • 2 locations in Cathedral City and Twentynine Palms, California.
camnpus icon
Cathedral City
Request Info
  • Which career path will you take – Business, Nursing, Education, Psychology? Something else? GCU offers more than 100 majors to get you started!
  • Colangelo College of Business: Features more than 25 programs from the bachelor through the master's level, including several high-demand MBA programs and an accelerated accounting degree.
  • College of Nursing and Health Care Professions: Rich 25-year history providing outstanding health care and nursing degree programs, including an RN to BSN program & master's in nursing degrees.
  • College of Education: Whether you are looking to start or advance your career as a teacher or administrator, GCU offers bachelor’s and master’s in education degrees in key areas.
  • College of Humanities and Social Sciences: Provides a job focused education and features a variety of programs from counseling and psychology to justice studies, history and English literature.
  • Does something else interest you? GCU also offers programs in Doctoral Studies; Theology; Science, Engineering & Technology; and Fine Arts & Production. Speak with an enrollment counselor today!
  • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor's Programs in 2014 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Implements a one-to-one teaching model, partnering one student with one faculty member in each course.
  • 100% of faculty members hold doctoral degrees.
  • No physical residency requirements, allowing students to pursue their degree online.
  • Committed to innovation, diversity, excellence, and accountability since its founding in 1996.
  • Offers several programs in business, education, psychology, and more.
  • Designated a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media for the 4th consecutive year.
  • Listed on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in 2013, for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Links students to hundreds of training opportunities ( beyond their traditional internships and practicum) at their many “partner agencies” in each of their local communities. 
  • Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Physical Therapist Assistant.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.

Back to Top