According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for physical therapy assistants and aides is expected to grow by 32% through 2030, a rate that’s much faster than the national average.
Working as a physical therapy assistant can be very rewarding, as you get to help patients on their journey to recovery. But, what does a physical therapy assistant do? If you’re considering this career path, read on to learn all about the work of a physical therapy assistant.
What Does a Physical Therapy Assistant Do?
Physical therapy assistants work alongside physical therapists and aides to rehabilitate patients who are working to regain their strength and full range of motion after an injury.
Physical therapy assistants spend a lot of time working one-on-one with patients, showing them new stretches and exercises, and observing their progress over time.
No two days look the same for a physical therapy assistant. However, here are some typical job duties that you can expect:
1. Work Directly with Patients on Therapy
Working directly with patients on therapy is one of the primary duties of a physical therapy assistant. A PTA will help patients perform exercises and teach them the proper form to help them regain full mobility and improve coordination.
A PTA also has the capacity to administer physical modalities, such as electrical muscle stimulation, soft tissue massage, and ultrasounds. For those who are in need of more intensive rehabilitation, physical therapy assistants can provide training for assistive devices, such as canes, crutches, or prosthetics.
2. Prepare Medical Reports
Physical therapy assistants are also largely responsible for documentation and reporting. To design and maintain a successful patient treatment plan, PTAs need to keep thorough records of all of the factors that influence a patient’s recovery and progress.
This will include information about a patient’s physical health, as well as their mental health. Typically, a PTA will also need to take an active role in encouraging patients during their recovery, as the road to recovery can sometimes be daunting.
3. Observe Patient Progress
Physical therapy assistants are responsible for periodically reassessing patient progress throughout the course of treatment. This way, they can work with the physical therapist to modify the treatment plan as needed.
Through communication and observation with other team members, physical therapy assistants ensure that their patients receive individualized, personalized care.
Many PTAs find that the most rewarding part of their job is making a difference in their patients’ lives, and observing patient progress is a big part of that.
4. Teaching Patients How to Use Equipment
While some patient equipment is rather intuitive, this is not the case for all of the equipment. For example, as a physical therapy assistant, you may help teach a young patient how to use a pediatric gait trainer.
Or, you may teach an injured patient how to maneuver with a walker. As a PTA, you’ll have the responsibility of ensuring that your patients feel confident and secure with the equipment they need to recover.
PTAs may also work with amputees, so you may be responsible for helping an amputee adjust to a prosthetic.
5. Educate Patients and Their Loved Ones
Your work as a physical therapy assistant doesn’t end when a patient leaves the facility. Physical therapy assistants are often responsible for ensuring patients and their loved ones understand which stretches and exercises they need to do at home to recover.
Patients need PTAs who can thoroughly explain how their treatment plan works and answer any outstanding questions they may have.
6. Community Involvement
Community involvement is another important aspect of the life of a physical therapy assistant. Not only are PTAs important members of their healthcare facilities, but they’re also important members of the healthcare community at large.
After gaining a few years of experience in the field, many physical therapy assistants go on to run seminars, teach academic courses, or lead community fitness and risk education programs.
What Is It Like to Work as a Physical Therapy Assistant?
A typical day for a physical therapy assistant involves a lot of communication, whether it be communicating with patients about their treatment plan or communicating with physical therapists about the day’s observations.
Physical therapy assistants have very interactive days, and they can expect to work with a steady stream of patients who have a range of needs. Most physical therapy assistants work in hospitals or privately-owned practices, but some also work in schools, rehab units, or home health settings.
While some PTAs work closely alongside one physical therapist, others work with a whole therapy team.
How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant
The great thing about working as a physical therapy assistant is that you don’t need to attend years of medical school to start working in the field. To become a PTA, you need to graduate from an accredited physical therapist assistant education program.
You also need to pass a state-administered national exam to earn your licensure. PTA programs typically last two years, and they can be completed at most community colleges. During the program, you’ll study neuroscience, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, communication, and behavioral science.
Are You Ready to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant?
Now that you know what it’s like to work as a physical therapy assistant, it’s time to get started on your new career path. We recommend looking into accredited programs in your area and researching admissions guidelines.
And, you can check back in with our blog for more medical career guides.