Physical Therapy Assistant Overview: Education & Job Outlook

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Physical Therapist Assistant Overview

A Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) works under the direct supervision of a Physical Therapist (PT) providing rehabilitation to patients. PTA’s typically work in a facility that provides care to people of all ages who have medical conditions that hinder their motor skills and perform functional activities in their daily lives. The facility is typically a clinic, office, or hospital.

All states regulate licensure and education requirements for PTA’s with slight variations but getting a 2-year degree and passing a national exam is the cornerstone of each state’s licensure requirements.

Physical therapists are part of a $31 billion rehabilitation therapy industry consisting of about 39,000 facilities in the United States. The Bureau of Labor (BLS) predicts 38,000 new PTA jobs by 2028 growing at 26% making it a much faster than average growth market.

A certified PTA typically requires a 2-year degree and all states require you to be licensed or certified. According to the BLS, the average wage for a PTA is $57,750 annually.

What is the difference between a PT vs. PT Assistant vs. PT Aide?

All of these professions are considered to have some level of rehabilitation expertise and have training in physical therapy whether its formal education or in the case of PT Aide, its typically on the job training.

Each of these functions has different education requirements with PT requiring the most formal education and a PT Aide requiring the least.  Typically, the higher the education requirements, the higher the salary employers will pay.

All of these functions may have the opportunity to work with people of all ages experiencing medical and/or health-related conditions restraining their ability to move and perform functional activities needed to carry out their everyday life. This profession  may work in many different settings, depending on the career they choose. It could be a hospital, private physical therapy practice, outpatient clinic, elderly care or nursing home facility, home health, athletic facilities, a university and more.

What is a Physical Therapist Aide?

Aides are not required to have more than a high school diploma and are trained on the job over a 3 month to 1-year period. Physical therapy aides work under the supervision of physical therapists and physical therapy assistants. They must be strong and fit to help assist patients with their therapy exercises, while also possessing strong communication and organizational skills to record, monitor, and express patient progress to colleagues, patients, and patient family members.

What is a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)?

A physical therapist assistant, or PTA, works on a team headed by a physical therapist. Together the team administers physical therapy services to patients under the physical therapist’s supervision. PTAs are responsible for implementing patient/client interventions or treatment. Additionally, a PTA must collect data on the treatments and determine how the patient should progress while ensuring the patient is comfortable and safe in doing so.

PTAs care for their patients in several ways including teaching clients/patients the proper exercises for strength, mobility, and coordination. Training for things like walking with crutches, walkers, or canes, massage as well as the use of electrical agents such as electrical stimulation and ultrasound are also performed by a PTA.

What is a Physical Therapist (PT)?

A Physical Therapist, or PT, leads a team and builds a patient treatment plan that promotes movement, manages pain, restores motor functions, and prevents disability. The PT and their teams work with patients and their families, along with other health care providers to understand the therapy plan, expectations, and outcomes.

The PT is formally trained in a variety of therapeutic exercises that manipulates movement in a patient’s muscle or performs muscle massage to promote blood flow and proper movement of the affected body function.  A PT uses many other different treatment tools such as ultrasound, electrotherapy such as dry needling, hot and cold packs to name a few. The PT is responsible for developing the best technique for each individual patient and train their team of PTA and PT Aides to follow the patient treatment plan

PTA Licensing or Licensure

Once a PTA completes their education requirements from a 2-year school accredited by The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), the candidate must then pass a state-administered national exam.  The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) administers the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for PTs and PTAs.  Every state but South Dakota has a PT board, but all states require the certifications and some states require you take a Jurisprudence test as well before issuing a license.  Check with your state board for exact requirements.

We wrote this 7 step guide to becoming a PTA that includes state by state information for getting your license including fees and application forms.

PTA Education: Degrees and Programs

Most colleges and universities offer a degree program certified by The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), Click the blue “Find Schools” button to view PTA programs and we also have a complete guide to PTA schools where you can learn more.

A typical school curriculum is 66 credit hours of school and is required to maintain a grade of C or better to proceed to the next semester.  That equates to about two years if the student is full time and passes all curriculum classes.

Tuition costs will vary at different universities depending on factors such as living in-state or out of state, public or private school and how long it takes you to finish. One sample state college estimated taking 15 hours for 2 semesters including tuition, books, and supplies only (no room and board, transportation, and other miscellaneous fees) would be about $4,000 for a local resident and about $20,000 for a non-resident for the same two semesters. On average, private college tuition will be much higher.

A typical school curriculum is 66 credit hours of school.  Many schools require certain clinical requirements to be completed before attending classes so make sure you check with your college.  Some of these requirements include:

  • Proof of health insurance
  • Criminal background check
  • Drug screen
  • Current CPR American Heart Association (AHA) Basic Life Support (BLS) for Healthcare Providers
  • The completed health data form
  • Verification of annual tuberculosis status
  • Health insurance during specific semesters

A sample college curriculum for a Physical Therapist Associate of Applied Science Degree (AAS):


  • English Composition I
  • Essentials of Medical Terminology
  • College Algebra
  • Introduction to Anatomy and Physiology
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Introduction to Physical Therapy

Semester I

  • Pathophysiology for the PTA
  • Functional Anatomy
  • Communication in Health Care

Semester II

  • Physical Agents
  • Neurology
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Therapeutic Exercise

Semester III

  • Clinical – Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Rehabilitation Techniques
  • Management of Neurological Disorders

Semester IV

  • Ethics
  • Professional Issues
  • Clinical – Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Clinical – Physical Therapist Assistant

PTA Salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has detailed statistics on the role which vary state by state but the median average salary for PTA is $57,750 per year.

Several factors determine the final salary or wage that a PTA will pay including specialization within a field, experience, and geography to name a few. The areas with a higher cost of living tend to pay above average. Texas, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts are the top five top-paying states according to the BLS.

The top Metro areas for employment are New York City, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Phoenix.

We have a database of PTA salary data across the nation that you can sort, filter and search.

Quick Facts: Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides
2018 Median Pay

$57,750 per year

$23.12 per hour

Typical Entry-Level EducationAssociates degree
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingNone
Number of Jobs, 2018148,200
Job Outlook, 2018-2826% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-2838,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

PTA Job Growth

The future is very bright for PTA job growth. So, now is a great time to be asking yourself “Should I become a physical therapist assistant?

According to BLS, they predict employment to grow 26% from now through 2028. This is much faster than average growth occupation in the Allied Health industry in terms of jobs. The BLS predicts 38,000 Nutritionist jobs will be added between 2018 and 2028.

Job growth for PTA is growing as hospitals and nursing homes continue to use specialist with our aging population as they look for ways to stay healthy. Our population has seen an increase in obesity and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease which makes the PTA professionals in more demand to care for people with the rehabilitation efforts of patients who have experienced incapacitating trauma.

The need for PTA’s is in every state but some areas have more need and are willing to pay more to start. Texas, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California are the top five states with the most jobs according to BLS.

Job Duties for PTA’s

There are many places where physical therapy assistants work, and your work setting will determine your specific duties.

A typical job description from an employer for a Physical Therapist Assistant:

  • Should be able to provide comprehensive treatment to patients under the supervision of a PT
  • Provide assistance to the PT in identifying patients needs and referring them to rehab accordingly
  • Provide patient’s progress reports on weekly progress accurately and timely with PT co-signature
  • Assist with documentation requirements in compliance with state guidelines
  • Attend facility and rehab meetings as needed and determined by the supervisor
  • Participate in the weekly scheduling of therapy patients
  • Provide complete billing logs and bill patients ethically and accurately for physical therapy services
  • Proved cover for other therapists’ patient caseload during absence as necessary
  • Supervise junior PTA staff, PT Aides or students in compliance with State PT Board regulations
  • Provide in-service education of physical therapy services to our staff, hospital staff and community as needed
  • Compliance with all facility safety policies and procedures
  • Be compliant with patient confidentiality and Federal Resident Rights
  • Report to work on time, follow scheduled hours and maintain a professional image at all times
  • Meet thresholds of productivity requirements, create and submit timely productivity reports
  • Maintain a positive work atmosphere and maintaining professional relationships with co-workers and patients.
  • Perform all duties assigned by the department supervisor or lead therapist
  • Follow company policies and procedures (both written and oral)
  • Successful candidates must be licensed in in our state

Physical Demands
Employees should be able to transfer patients, lift weights, transport patients and perform treatment on the clinical mat. The candidate should be knowledgeable in exercise mechanics techniques during patient treatment.

What Personality Traits Are Helpful?

Below are just a few of the personality traits for physical therapists, we also wrote this in-depth article on the top physical therapist personality traits.

Physical Therapist Assistants play a critical role in aiding Physical Therapists with rehabilitating patients. Often patients start out bedridden in a hospital from accidents or even strokes and don’t have the intimate care of a family member. This often requires the PTA to provide caring interaction with the patient.

Here are some traits that can help you succeed:

  • Empathy for the patient and their family
  • Excellent communication skills to speak, hear, and observe patient mood and react accordingly
  • Be caring and able to inspire and motivate people
  • Observational skills to assess patients progress
  • Sufficient motor skills to move equipment and patient
  • Excellent problem-solving skills to measure, evaluate, and reason with the patient
  • Good emotional health exercising good judgment with the ability to tolerate the taxing emotions of the PTA/patient relationship
  • Ability to keep patients’ negative thoughts and redirect to a positive focus

If becoming a physical therapy assistant sounds rewarding to you then click the blue find schools button to compare physical therapy assistant programs nearby and online.

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