Female medical professional with elderly woman

How to Become a Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant

Learn About Requirements, Certifications, Duties, and Salary Ranges

Female medical professional with elderly woman

In the realm of physical therapy, rehabilitation is a key goal for many patients. Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) want to help others achieve this goal by adapting to disabilities or major illnesses so that they can live their lives to the fullest. These professionals assist patients in building physical strength, managing pain, and restoring full range of motion. Essentially, they support physical therapists by helping each clinic run smoothly.

Our career guide will teach you all you need to know about becoming a Rehabilitation 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 Rehabilitation PTA.

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

Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant?

Think about it like this: While physical therapy always aims to help people regain mobility, Rehabilitation PTAs specialize in patients who have more critical medical conditions. They are often essential members of physical therapy teams that help patients overcome pain and live their lives to the fullest.

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

Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistants strive to help people adapt to disabilities or major illnesses so that they can regain independence and control. Ultimately, the goal is to alleviate suffering, regain mobility, and equip them for the future.

Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

You will often find Rehabilitation PTAs in assisted living facilities or specialized clinics. Some of their patients are usually stroke victims or people with significant brain injuries. On the job, Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistants employ a more well-rounded approach so that their patients can hopefully live independent and fulfilling lives.

Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

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

  • Assess each patient’s condition and report back to the physical therapist
  • Assisting patients with exercise programs prescribed by physical therapists
  • Performing hands-on therapy like stretching or massages
  • Teaching patients how to continue their recovery progress at home
  • Documenting patient progress and encouraging them during sessions
  • Preparing and organizing therapeutic equipment
  • Scheduling appointments and responding to emails

Rehabilitation PTA Education Requirements & Certifications

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

To become a Rehabilitation PTA, you must acquire your license to practice by receiving an associate degree from an accredited program and passing the NPTE exam. Additionally, you may need to pursue certifications in neurology. This is because you will likely need to gain more advanced training when it comes to the treatment of injuries or conditions that affect the nervous system. Once again, the American Physical Therapy Association offers training to help you stand out from other job candidates.

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

Generally, it takes around two years or less to become a Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant. Aspiring PTAs must complete an associate-degree program to follow this career path. 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.

Keep in mind that any journey is best broken down into smaller steps. Don’t let the overall picture overwhelm you; instead, find a way to accomplish your tasks while still living your life. For instance, you could seek programs with a part-time option.

Group of medical students in a lecture

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

1. Complete a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Program

If you’d like to become a Physical Therapist Assistant 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. Simulation labs allow you to practice these skills in real-world scenarios. Plus, most programs provide you with supervised externships. Through your coursework, you’ll build a deep understanding of the human body and learn how to provide therapy to patients with injuries or illnesses.

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.

Remember: You can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period.

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. Acquire 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). In addition, you might want to consider advanced specialization or certification.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers training in rehabilitation-based physical therapy, where you can expand your PTA skills and knowledge when it comes to caring for patients with serious medical conditions. According to APTA, some of the rehabilitative specialties you might explore include pediatric, neuromuscular, or cardiopulmonary therapy. Not only will these certifications help you stand out, but they can also lead to greater salaries and opportunities. Additional certifications would also help your resume stand out during the job search for Rehabilitation PTAs.

Physical therapist assistant with elderly man

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

Physical Therapist Assistants should possess a combination of mental, physical, and emotional skills. Since Rehabilitation PTAs work directly with patients, they should have great interpersonal skills, compassionate natures, and diligent tendencies. These specialized Physical Therapist Assistants may also require experience with electrical stimulation or traction and ultrasound equipment. In addition, they will likely need to maneuver their patients on a regular basis. As you can see, physical stamina is vital to the success of a PTA.

Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do Rehabilitation 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.

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

Why are Rehabilitation Centers a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

While some PTAs prefer to work with children or athletes, others find it more fulfilling to help patients in Rehabilitation therapy. The people you meet will need care, healing, and patience. Thanks to your help, these patients can improve several areas of their life and lead more fulfilling lives.

Start Your Educational Journey as a Rehabilitation PTA

For people who love the idea of helping others live their best lives, becoming a Rehabilitation PTA could be a wonderful career choice. Critical medical conditions can be an unfortunate part of life, but rehabilitation physical therapy teams promote independence and pain management. Now and in the future, there will always be a need for healthcare professionals like Rehabilitation 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!