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Where Do Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

By April 25, 2022December 26th, 2022Physical Therapist Assistant

One advantage to a career as a physical therapist assistant (PTA) is the wide variety of clinical settings you can work in. While some of your core job duties will remain the same from setting to setting, the types of patients a PTA sees and their clinical objectives could change.

Those who need physical therapy services can require different levels of care. Differing levels of care can impact a PTA’s job responsibilities. Patients in an inpatient nursing facility or hospital setting may be dealing with chronic issues and are working to maximize functioning and quality of life. Conversely, a student-athlete who suffered an injury may only need acute outpatient rehabilitation services over the short term. Understanding the difference in these environments can be important for considering where you think you’d most enjoy working as a PTA.

If you’re wondering where physical therapy assistants work, here are some common workplaces, including descriptions of what PTAs do in each environment:

A private outpatient physical therapist’s office

PTAs support licensed physical therapists in facilities that provide rehabilitative physical therapy services. Physical therapists can be members of a private practice, a branded franchise physical therapy branch, or work under a large healthcare system.

The range of services offered at a physical therapy office can change but nearly any patient coming into the conventional physical therapy environment will have been referred by a doctor.

Outpatient environments tend to be faster-paced. These patients may have a higher level of functioning and may not have missed work or school due to injury. That means their therapy session is only one of several responsibilities they have on any given day. In outpatient facilities, a range of patients with a variety of injuries means variety in clinical cases, helping keep things new and interesting for PTAs.

In an inpatient hospital or extended care facility

PTAs often work where the environment can be different from a conventional outpatient private office. Services received here are called habilitative, rather than rehabilitative, and aim to provide long-term residents with functionality, strength, and mobility as they age. Patients in these settings can also receive rehabilitative services whether they are recovering from a medical procedure or have suffered a disabling event like a fall.

These environments are attractive to PTAs who want a slower-paced work environment. Inpatient work environments can also be less varied even as treatment is less physically intense for both the PTA and the patient. PTAs in these settings often see the same patients on a daily basis, developing a relationship with them. This increased familiarity can mean more autonomy for the PTA, with a single PT supervising a higher number of PTAs.

An outpatient facility at a doctor’s office or hospital

In order to provide patients comprehensive care, some physicians, such as those in primary care, orthopedics, and geriatrics, may provide access to physical therapy services directly or within a broader healthcare system.

An advantage to this setup is that the patient can benefit from access to specialized testing and treatment technologies that can be on-site at a specialist’s clinic. In this environment, PTAs can benefit from close communication with practitioners at all levels of a patient’s care and be involved in their treatment planning.

Home healthcare services

PTAs working in home healthcare settings may work in a variety of residential environments. You may work with patients directly in their personal homes, group living facilities, or certain types of continuing care homes. This is a setting where PTAs often have a great deal of independence where they become the primary point of contact for both a patient’s physical therapy and general health needs like nutrition.

The types of patients PTAs serve in home health are often dealing with chronic health issues or are trying to maintain activity and mobility as they age. Supervising PTs will still provide general guidance and supervision but the type of treatment is often up to the PTA. You may help set up assistive devices in their homes and show patients how to use them, ensuring that as their condition improves, they are still able to live independently.

Schools, sports facilities, and fitness centers

Physical therapy can be about improving baseline performance, as well as regaining strength and function after injury. PTAs interested in helping athletes improve physical performance or come back stronger from injury may choose to work in sports and other performance-related environments.

PTAs in academic environments like colleges may be hired to work directly with student-athletes, treating those who play a specific sport or all of a school’s sports teams. They may also work at high schools where sports are a focus. A select few are hired in elite sports environments like professional teams, national teams, and other high-level organizations.

Those interested in working as a sports PTA may want to seek an education or practicum experience related to sports or performance enhancement.