Physical therapist assistants team with physical therapists to help people live healthy and active lives.
Are you ready to be a PTA?
What Physical Therapist Assistants Do
Physical therapist assistants provide physical therapist services under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. PTAs implement components of patient care, obtain data related to the treatments provided, and collaborate with the PT to modify care as necessary.
PTAs assist the physical therapist in the treatment of individuals of all ages, from newborns to people at the end of life. Many patients have injuries, disabilities, or other health conditions that need treatment. But PTAs also care for people who simply want to become healthier and to prevent future problems.
The physical therapist is responsible for the services provided by the PTA. A PT will examine each individual and develop a treatment plan to improve their ability to move, reduce or manage pain, restore function, and prevent disability.
PTAs can have a profound effect on people’s lives. They help people achieve fitness goals, regain or maintain their independence, and lead active lives.
Visit ChoosePT.com, APTA’s official consumer information website, to learn more about the benefits of physical therapy.
Where Physical Therapist Assistants Work
The vast majority of PTAs, approximately 72%, work in hospitals or privately-owned physical therapy practices. Others work in home health, schools, and rehab units. Approximately 28% of PTAs work part-time.
How Much Physical Therapist Assistants Earn
The median income for a physical therapist assistant is $52,000. Salaries vary based on position, years of experience, degree of education, geographic location, and practice setting.
Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Licensure
To work as a physical therapist assistant in the United States, you must graduate from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education-accredited physical therapist assistant education program and pass a state-administered national exam to obtain licensure or certification required in most states.
The length of a PTA program is typically two years (five semesters). Primary content areas in the curriculum may include, but are not limited to, anatomy, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, clinical pathology, behavioral sciences, communication, and ethics/values.
Approximately 75% of the PTA curriculum is classroom (didactic) and lab study and the remaining 25% is dedicated to clinical education. PTA students spend on average 16 weeks in full-time clinical education experiences.
Getting Into a PTA Program
Entry-level physical therapist assistant education programs are offered at the associate degree level.
CAPTE's website provides the list of PTA programs.
Choosing the Right Program
APTA does not rank PTA education programs. Programs are accredited by CAPTE, which assures quality in physical therapist assistant education. Among the factors you should keep in mind when choosing your program:
- Cost and financial aid opportunities. Many PTA students graduate with student loans. Make sure that you are financially aware and prepared. Programs offer different student experiences and have different costs.
- Demographics and setting. You will be investing a lot into PTA education. Make sure that you select a program where you feel at home.
You may wish to contact current students and recent graduates of the program or interview employers who hire graduates to ask about program strengths and weaknesses.
APTA is currently developing a centralized application service for PTA programs. In the meantime, applications need to be sent directly to the PTA programs.
Physical therapist assistants have the opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills through APTA’s PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways program. Content areas are acute care, cardiovascular/pulmonary, geriatrics, oncology, orthopedics, pediatrics, and wound management. Participants receive guidance from a self-designated clinical mentor who has expertise in the content area. The program is voluntary; PTAs are not required to participate in order to work in a specific area.