Discover Various Specializations for Your PTA Career
Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) are involved in the direct care of patients. Not only do they support physical therapists, but they help patients recover from both injuries and illnesses. PTAs are also one of the fastest-growing fields in the healthcare industry. This rewarding field of work allows for specialization, stability, and growth.
Another benefit of becoming a PTA is the work environment. There are a number of places and opportunities you can pursue in this career path. As a PTA, you can specialize in specific practice areas or patient populations. We’ve compiled some of the best PTA jobs available once you’ve completed your educational program.
Curious about the PTA profession? Click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant.
What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
Physical Therapist Assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists. Not only do they provide patients with hands-on therapy, but they help them recover from various injuries and illnesses. The ultimate goal of the physical therapy team is to help patients regain movement, manage pain, and resume daily activities. To walk this path, an aspiring PTA must typically gain an associate degree and a license or certification.
Some common duties of Physical Therapist Assistants include:
- Observing patients throughout the therapy process
- Helping patients perform exercises from their plan of care
- Treating patients through techniques such as massages and stretches
- Using equipment like walkers to assist patients
- Educating patients on how to continue their treatment at home
- Reporting each patient’s progress to the supervising physical therapist
Physical Therapist Assistant Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Physical Therapist Assistants earn an average annual salary of about $64,000, which is about $31 per hour. Depending on their experience and location, some PTAs may earn significantly higher salaries.
Since 2021, the top industries for PTAs are:
- Home healthcare services
- Nursing care facilities
- Hospitals at the state, local, and private levels
- Offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists and audiologists
- Offices of physicians
Physical Therapist Assistant Job Outlook
The BLS has projected that employment of PTAs will grow 24 percent by 2031. This is much faster than the average of all occupations (5 percent). Many of these job openings will likely result from retiring PTAs and an increase in preventive care. As the baby-boomer population ages, so will the need for medical services like physical therapy. Physical therapists are expected to hire greater numbers of PTAs to help them meet this need.
Where Can a Physical Therapist Assistant Work?
Physical Therapist Assistants can work in a variety of settings with varying patient populations. Whether you’re interested in helping children, the elderly, or another population, there’s an ideal job out there for your Physical Therapist Assistant.
This guide delves into the top eight PTA jobs and what it takes to pursue them. We’ll look at educational requirements, licenses or certifications, and much more. Remember: There are a variety of career options available to someone who’s earned a PTA degree.
Our list of the top Physical Therapist Assistant jobs includes:
- Acute Care PTA
- School PTA
- Rehabilitation PTA
- Pediatric PTA
- Nursing Home PTA
- Traveling PTA
- Home Health PTA
- Sports PTA
1. Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
After a significant injury or surgery, it’s vital that patients take their first steps toward mobility and exercise. This is where Acute Care Physical Therapy Assistants come in; they help people start the recovery process from incidents like surgery, trauma, or illness (i.e., stroke).
Where Do Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Generally, Acute Care PTAs work in hospitals or critical-care clinics. This is because they are needed wherever patients are treated for medical emergencies. They may even work with hospitalized patients in rooms, hallways, or other nearby areas. In addition, these Physical Therapy Assistants might work at physical therapy facilities under the direction of a physical therapist. In these facilities, Acute Care PTAs can assess a patient’s condition and assist them through exercises or treatments.
Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
An Acute Care PTA must obtain an associate degree from an accredited PTA program. Then, they must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) so that they can become licensed by the state in which they practice. Many Acute Care Physical Therapy Assistants also complete focused training in acute care physical therapy. If you’d like more information, The American Physical Therapy Association offers skilled training in acute care.
Why is Acute Care a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
Like trauma nurses, a career as an Acute Care PTA could be ideal if you prefer fast-paced environments where you treat critically ill patients. You could help patients recover their mobility after major operations like heart surgery or work with people on the oncology unit. There will always be a need for physical therapy after life-altering conditions. In this role, you are sure to make a difference in someone else’s life.
2. School Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a School Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
This unique specialty allows Physical Therapist Assistants to mainly work with children in various environments. School PTAs assist students who have disabilities or injuries, helping them acclimate to their surroundings so that they can continue their education. Not only do they use hands-on therapy, but they might recommend certain technologies or equipment to better assist them at school.
Where Do School Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
As their name suggests, School Physical Therapist Assistants work in various learning environments. These settings can range from public to private and residential schools. In this role, School PTAs often work with a variety of students, such as children with disabilities or special-needs students.
School Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Like Acute Care PTAs, School Physical Therapist Assistants must earn an associate degree and pass the NPTE exam before they can seek licensure in the state where they wish to practice. However, many School PTAs must also acquire specialized training to ensure they can properly care for children. This means they may need to obtain additional certification from organizations like the American Physical Therapy Association. Advanced certifications would also help your resume stand out during the job search for School PTAs.
Why are Schools a Great Place for Physical Therapist Assistants to Work?
If you want to work with kids and you hate cubicles, then a career as a School PTA could be the right move for you! School-aged children are learning and growing every day, so it can be very rewarding to help them learn and retain their mobility. You will also likely be kept on your toes, as children may come with various developmental or physical conditions.
3. Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
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 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.
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 Education and Training
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.
Why is Rehabilitation 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.
4. Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
It’s a well-known fact that people require more medical care as they age, but children often need physical therapy as well. This is why Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants are so important. They help younger patients improve their range of motion and finetune their motor skills so that they can thrive. Under the supervision of physical therapists, Pediatric PTAs guide their patients through strengthening programs that are designed to enhance their mobility and overall health.
Where Do Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
As you might have guessed from their title, Pediatric PTAs generally work in children’s hospitals and as school-based therapists. They may also find employment in medical facilities, rehabilitation centers, home health services, and private clinics.
Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Because Pediatric 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 pediatrics. Like School PTAs, Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants must ensure that they can care for children. See the American Physical Therapy Association to learn more about specialized training in several areas of physical therapy.
Why is Pediatrics a Great Place for Physical Therapist Assistants to Work?
Some PTAs find great satisfaction in working with younger patients. Adolescence is a time of growth, and Pediatric PTAs strive to help children improve balance and coordination, regain movement, participate in developmental activities, and more. If you are good with kids and want to pursue physical therapy, then a career as a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant could be the ideal choice for you.
5. Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant
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.
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 Education and Training
Like other PTAs, 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.
Why are Nursing Homes a Great Place for Physical Therapist Assistants to Work?
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!
6. Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
Traveling Physical Therapist Assistants are PTAs who like to be on the move. Although they perform the duties you might expect of a PTA, these professionals do so in a range of facilities throughout their state or the country. They aid in the physical recovery of patients under the direction of a physical therapist.
Where Do Traveling Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Traveling Physical Therapist Assistants usually work short-to-medium-term contracts, allowing them to change course and potentially gain more experience. These contracts, which often last from two to three months, land them at a variety of medical facilities. Some Traveling PTAs might find themselves at sports-medicine clinics or pediatric facilities. Due to their contracts, these PTAs typically work for healthcare staffing organizations.
Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
It might go without saying at this point, but there are two key requirements for PTAs: Obtain an associate degree from an accredited PTA program and pass the NPTE exam to become licensed. In addition, some Traveling PTAs seek specialized training and advanced certification from organizations such as the American Physical Therapy Association. Check out the PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways to learn more about specialization in areas like oncology, geriatrics, neurology, and more.
Why is a Traveling Career a Great Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
This type of career might appeal to medical professionals with a sense of wanderlust. Just like traveling nurses, Traveling PTAs get itchy feet and want to help people in a variety of locations. If you’re looking for job fulfillment as well as new experiences, places, and people, then this pathway could be the ideal solution for you.
7. Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
In the field of physical therapy, Home Health PTAs play a vital role. These Physical Therapist Assistants care for patients who endure illnesses or injuries that restrict them to their homes. In other words, Home Health PTAs bring medical treatment to the home of each patient. They often assist clients with exercise programs that are designed to enhance mobility and strength.
Where Do Home Health Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Home Health Physical Therapist Assistants visit all kinds of homes to see their patients. When patients cannot leave their homes for outpatient therapy, these professionals are called upon to help them. Home Health PTAs might visit houses, apartment complexes, condominiums, and more.
Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Like the other careers on our list, Home Health PTAs must acquire an associate degree from an accredited PTA program. They must also pass the NPTE licensure exam to safely practice in their state. Some employers of Home Health Physical Therapist Assistants prefer to hire PTAs with extra training, which can be completed through certifying organizations like the American Physical Therapy Association.
Why is Home Health a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
If you enjoy new surroundings and experiences, then a specialized path as a Home Health PTA could be the right choice for you. This pathway allows medical professionals to care for people in their homes. In other words, they will likely gain greater experience levels and skill sets. It can also be very satisfying to help ill or injured patients make progress on their road to recovery.
8. Sports Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
In the exciting world of sports medicine, physical therapy can be key to the success and health of athletes. Sports PTAs specialize in helping athletes prevent or recover from their injuries. Under the supervision of physical therapists, Sports Physical Therapist Assistants guide athletes through rehabilitative exercises, general recovery, and preventative measures.
Where Do Sports Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Although Sports PTAs can work in a number of places, you’ll typically find them in sports-medicine clinics, university athletic departments, and professional sports teams. It might take a lot of work and some luck to get a job with a professional sports program. Don’t let this stop you, though! There are still many opportunities available in the realm of sports physical therapy.
Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
You know the drill: PTAs must complete an accredited associate-degree program for PTAs and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam. Afterward, some pursue training in orthopedics or sports medicine. Check out the PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways and the PTA Specialty Certification in Orthopedics.
Why is Sports a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
It’s common for Sports PTAs to experience satisfaction while helping athletes get back on their feet. These are patients who are passionate and want to push the human body to the limit. More often than not, this kind of enthusiasm is downright infectious. Pursue the path of a sports PTA if you’re a former athlete who would like a career as a Physical Therapist Assistant.
Start Your Career as a Physical Therapist Assistant
As you can see, earning a PTA degree can open the door to so many job opportunities. There are various specializations you can pursue to find fulfillment, stability, and advancement. Whether you want to work with athletes, children, or another group, there are so many possibilities in the field of physical therapy.
Find the career and specialization that’s right for you.