Physiotherapists with a patient using bands

How to Become a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant

Learn About Requirements, Certifications, Duties, and Salary Ranges

Physiotherapists with a patient using bands

If you think about it, physical therapy is vital when it comes to the health and well-being of senior citizens. As people in this group age, the risk of slipping or falling will only increase. This is where teams with Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) can help. With a physical therapy program in place, residents of nursing homes can utilize services that reduce pain, improve mobility, and boost independence. That’s quite a care package!

Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistants help the elderly perform therapeutic exercises that increase their endurance, balance, and coordination. These professionals promote geriatric health by supporting physical therapists at nursing homes across the country.

Our career guide will teach you all you need to know about becoming a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant. We’ll cover the required schooling, certifications, and what to expect from your work environment. This guide also details how much you could make and how long it usually takes to launch your career as a Nursing Home PTA.

(Click here to see our full list of the top Physical Therapist Assistant jobs.)

Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant?

Nursing Home PTAs assist senior citizens in specialized facilities. They aim to restore physical function, maintain mobility, and improve quality of life. They might encounter patients with balance issues after hip fractures or those recovering from joint replacement procedures. Not only do these PTAs play an important role in nursing homes, but there are also several benefits for them. In addition to personal fulfillment, this position often includes a flexible schedule, one-on-one patient care, and even mileage reimbursement.

(Click here to learn how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant.)

Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

It may sound obvious, but many people require more care as they get older. This is a natural process in life. As our technology improves and lifespans increase, it only makes sense that more healthcare workers will be needed. Nursing Home PTAs help elderly patients stay active and healthy in their golden years. Under the supervision of physical therapists, these PTAs can develop and guide people through strengthening exercises that meet their unique needs.

Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

As their name suggests, these Physical Therapist Assistants work in nursing homes (i.e., assisted-living facilities). When it comes to physical health, Nursing Home PTAs may work with patients across the spectrum. This means that one therapy session can greatly differ from the next. For instance, some clients might require assistance learning how to use a wheelchair or a walker. Other clients might be more active and handle longer amounts of physical activity.

Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Although job duties can vary depending on your location and employer, the daily tasks of a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant will generally include the following:

  • Assessing each patient’s condition and reporting back to the physical therapist
  • Assisting patients with exercise programs prescribed by physical therapists
    • Strengthening limbs weakened by a stroke
    • Improving flexibility in joints with arthritis to decrease inflammation, stiffness, and pain
    • Restoring mobility following an orthopedic injury, such as a hip fracture
    • Engaging in gait training to help residents with mobility issues
    • Helping people who use wheelchairs to maintain their range of motion and strengthen the muscles in their abdomen
  • Performing hands-on therapy like stretching or massages
  • Demonstrating proper body mechanics, including gait training, balance, and range of motion exercises
  • Documenting patient progress and encouraging them during sessions
  • Instructing patients on how to properly use wheelchairs, braces, crutches, canes, prosthetic or orthotic devices as needed
  • Preparing and organizing therapeutic equipment

In general, a Nursing Home PTA aims to help their patients with areas like the following:

  • Strength training
  • Fall prevention
  • Pain management

Medical student and professor studying a human skeleton

Nursing Home PTA Education Requirements & Certifications

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant?

Because Nursing Home PTAs must meet the basic requirements, they will need to graduate from an accredited associate-degree program and pass the NPTE exam. Some professionals in this field will also pursue certification in geriatrics or home health. Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistants must ensure that they can care for senior citizens. See the American Physical Therapy Association to learn more about specialized training in several areas of physical therapy.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant?

If you’d like to become a Nursing Home PTA, your journey will probably take about two years to complete. First, aspiring PTAs must complete an associate-degree program. While most programs require two years of school, an accelerated program would allow you to earn a PTA degree in as little as 20 months. In addition, Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistants must be licensed PTAs. This means they have graduated from an accredited PTA program and passed the NPTE licensure exam. Additionally, some employers prefer PTAs with specialized training in geriatrics. See the American Physical Therapy Association for more information about advanced proficiency training programs.

Once you have passed your program, you will need to complete several other steps before you seek work as a Nursing Home PTA. This is to ensure that you are equipped with the necessary skills to help elderly patients.

Our guide breaks down what it takes to become a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant:

1. Complete a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Program

If you’d like to become a PTA in the U.S., you will need to earn an associate degree from a PTA program that’s accredited by CAPTE. It’s important to remember that each program will have its own set of admissions requirements. To give you a better idea, the PTA degree program at Unitek College requires a high school diploma or GED, a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, and more. In addition, the Unitek College program requires background checks and drug screenings.

While your PTA education will likely include some general-education requirements, most of your program will focus on core classes like anatomy, physical ailments, medical terminology, and patient care. Students also typically learn about kinesiology and equipment operation, not to mention mental health and legal issues. Aspiring PTAs who are interested in geriatrics may pursue geriatric-centered electives at this time. Ask your program director what elective courses you can try to further specialize in this area of physical therapy.

2. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

In order to obtain your PTA license and start your career, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). This test demonstrates your mastery of the necessary skills to perform PTA tasks. The NPTE is a multiple-choice test with 200 questions. Keep in mind that you’ll have four hours to complete this exam.

If you’re nervous about taking the test, you might want to speak with graduates who have been in this situation. Talk to your teachers and counselors. Consider practice exams, too. Go to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website to learn more about these exams. They offer PEAT, or the Practice Exam and Assessment Tool, to provide you with an idea of what to expect on the exam. However, it’s important to remember that you can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period.

Group of medical students sitting on the stairs

3. Obtain Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

After you’ve successfully completed the NPTE, you’ll be eligible to become licensed in the state(s) where you plan to work. Because the NPTE is a national exam, it’s usually easy to transfer your scores to gain licensure in different states. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy will be your go-to resource for determining each state’s licensing requirements for PTAs.

Although some states have different requirements for maintaining your PTA license, most states will require the completion of ongoing education programs or proof of current employment and relevant work experience.

4.Gain Work Experience and Additional Certifications

The next step is to build your resume and gain work experience. If you’d like to stand out from other job candidates, you should also obtain certification in basic life support (BLS). PTAs who would like to specialize in geriatrics should apply for jobs with geriatric physical therapists. Not only is this one of the most valuable ways to gain experience, but it can also serve as an excellent networking opportunity.

In addition, you might want to consider advanced specialization or certification. Look into certification in home health with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). They offer a home health section that’s specifically designed for physical therapists and PTAs who are interested in working with senior citizens. APTA even provides eligible individuals with an Advanced Competency in Home Health Certification.

In order for you to achieve the PTA certification, you must complete a course bundle with five online classes, attend a live or virtual seminar to demonstrate home care skills and more. If this interests you, continue reading at the American Physical Therapy Association.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant?

As a Nursing Home PTA, you must know how to properly interact with elderly patients. This includes several mental and emotional skills. Again, since Nursing Home PTAs work directly with senior citizens, who can be particularly vulnerable, they should have great interpersonal skills and compassionate natures. These specialized Physical Therapist Assistants will need to maneuver their patients as well. As you can see, physical stamina is vital to the success of any PTA. In addition, some job postings may include requirements like an AHA CPR certification and experience in an acute setting.

Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

Physical Therapist Assistants in the United States earn an average annual salary of about $65,000, which is around $31 per hour. Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported that the top industries for PTAs include home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, hospitals, and offices of various practitioners.

While the BLS doesn’t offer salary information for Nursing Home PTAs, Physical Therapist Assistants usually receive a competitive salary that can increase depending on their specializations, location, and experience.

Senior woman laughing with a medical professional

Why Are Nursing Homes a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

Many healthcare professionals find it very satisfying to work with older patients. Not only are they experienced and worldly, but they have likely spent years contributing to society. Now, the youth can help return the favor. Nursing Home PTAs can take great pride in helping the older generation maintain their independence, dignity, and health. Plus, in this role, you’re sure to hear lots of good stories!

Consider Your Educational Journey as a Nursing Home PTA

For people who love the idea of helping elderly patients improve their motor skills, minimize their risk of falling, and promote independence, becoming a Nursing Home PTA could be a wonderful career choice. Physical therapy can also boost the mental health of senior citizens and provide PTAs with a great deal of job satisfaction. Now and in the future, there will always be a need for healthcare professionals like Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistants.

If you’re interested in becoming a PTA, you should check out the Physical Therapist Assistant program at Unitek College. Don’t waste another minute and start your journey to become a PTA today!