Based on the most recent data, there are nearly 130,000 physical therapist assistants (PTAs) in the US. Each one is a vital part of the US medical system and is integral to the rehabilitative, habilitative, and geriatric settings they work in. As the median age in the United States continues to increase, PTAs will remain in demand with more people than ever needing physical therapy services. As a result, the PTA industry is expected to grow 30% by 2030, a rate that even outpaces some other in-demand fields.
Why people become PTAs
PTA is a care-work field, one that many choose due to a sense of responsibility for society at large and the desire to ease pain and suffering. Being an effective PTA relies on a combination of 21st-century medical skills and a connection to patients, some of whom you may work with for months or even years at a time. Many find this kind of work tremendously rewarding and central to the work-life of a PTA.
This means that as the number of PTAs grows, the opportunity to do meaningful work will grow with it. Here’s what a day in the life of a physical therapist assistant looks like, delivering on therapy plans developed by physical therapists.
What PTAs do
Generally speaking, the PTA’s job description is to work with patients of any age to implement treatment plans and help them improve or regain quality of life through rehabilitative and habilitative services. PTAs work under direct supervision from physical therapists (PT) to implement the PT’s treatment plan and reach specific goals like easing pain, improving independence and functionality, or rehabilitating an injury.
Physical therapist assistants can work in a number of inpatient and outpatient medical settings. These can include hospitals, nursing and assisted living facilities, or neurological, pediatric, and occupational facilities. They can also work out of a traditional physical therapist’s office.
Being a PTA requires a wide variety of hard and soft job skills that range from setting up the appropriate equipment to performing patient assessments to interacting with patients and team members to discuss the treatment process and relay instructions. Quality PTA programs will not only focus on building the medical skills needed to deliver care but also the so-called soft skills of “bedside manner” and communication required to succeed in the modern clinical environment.
You’ll also learn the technical skills needed to deliver treatments such as active and passive therapeutic exercises, massage, aquatic therapy, electrical stimulation, thermal and photo-therapies (heat and light), and range of motion using resistance and weights.
PTAs help set performance baselines to determine treatment progress through a number of basic physical and complex medical metrics. They can use both objective and subjective measurement systems including patient reports, pain scales, range of motion, and strength testing, plus observational reports on visual signs of healing.
Salary and compensation
While actual annual salaries can vary based on the position due to geographical region, the type of position held, and other broader economic factors, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook report estimates that the average yearly salary for PTAs in 2020 was just under $60,000.
Succeeding as a PTA means combining a comprehensive and supportive academic program with ample opportunity to gain hands-on clinical experience. You receive all that and more as a part of Villa’s PTA program that has a 100% placement rate for graduates who pass the standard license exam.
In early courses, you’ll develop fundamental knowledge in the sciences such as biology, anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. Early in your tenure at Villa, you will also begin learning practical clinical skills where you apply your academic knowledge on real people and, eventually, patients.