The Career Outlook for Physical Therapist Assistants
The American healthcare sector is one of the fastest growing parts of the national economy. With an ever-growing emphasis on health and wellness, the employment opportunities for skilled healthcare professionals continue to be very robust in all 50 states. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the field of physical therapy.
An increasingly aging population, growing emphasis on physical fitness and an awareness of the importance of effective rehabilitative physical therapy has contributed to a dramatic increase in the need for skilled physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.
What is Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is the practice of using various types of exercise to assist a patient in regaining or maintaining full physical function. In most cases, physical therapy is a part of a larger program of patient treatment.
Physical therapy has become increasingly important due to the recognition that traumatic injuries, serious medical conditions and long-term confinement to a hospital bed can result in the permanent loss of physical capability if not addressed. The physical therapist and physical therapist assistant work to ensure that their patients can regain the ability to be physically active even after a long illness or major medical procedure.
In addition, the elderly often suffer degenerative physical conditions that require the use of physical therapy. In many cases, this can dramatically improve both their independence and quality of life.
This is especially important in light of studies that have shown that being physically independent can assist in staving off a variety of age-related physical and mental disabilities.
Elective Physical Therapy
Finally, many professional and amateur athletes make use of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in order to enhance their performance.
Additionally, physical therapy is extremely useful in treating sports related injuries in such a way as to ensure that the athlete can return to the field.
Physical Therapy Careers in the Modern American Healthcare Sector
There are a wide variety of jobs available for qualified physical therapy assistants.
Physical therapist assistants work in hospitals, convalescent homes, and as in-home care staff.
In addition, many athletic centers and businesses employ physical therapy assistants in order to provide high quality care to their patrons.
Among the most common sources of employment for physical therapy assistants are the following:
- Most hospitals employee a number of physical therapy assistants who help the physician and physical therapist develop and implement a plan of physical therapy for patients who are recovering from illness or a surgical procedure.
- Many therapy assistants work at convalescent and rehabilitation centers, assisting individuals with both short and long-term physical rehabilitation therapy. In many cases, they will continue to work with their patients after they have been discharged from the facility.
- In-home health care is becoming increasingly common, especially for individuals who have limited mobility. Physical therapy assistants involved in this field visit the patient in his or her home, and often work directly with the patient’s caregivers in order to ensure that the therapy is having the desired effect. They also provide reports to the supervising physical therapist and assist with any needed modifications to the therapy program.
- Many athletic centers and programs employ physical therapy assistants to work with their athletes to reduce the chances of sports related injuries.
Physical Therapy Specialties
Many physical therapy assistants choose to focus on one or more specialties. These fields usually involve obtaining a greater degree of specialized education and work experience. Specialties include home health care, pediatric, geriatric and sports physical therapy.
It is important to note that many of these specialties do not involve extra certification for a physical therapy assistant, unlike the requirements for a physical therapist.
Employment Opportunities for Physical Therapists
There are a wide range of employment opportunities for physical therapist assistants. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has determined that over 67,000 physical therapist assistants were employed in the United States. Furthermore, by 2020 it is estimated that the number of job opportunities
will have increased by at least 45 percent. The demand for new physical therapist assistants is high in all states, with California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas currently employing the largest number of therapy assistants.
Physical therapy assistants currently enjoy very competitive salaries when compared to other fields with similar educational requirements.
The national mean annual wage is over $51,000, and experienced assistants or those working in specialties that see high demand may earn considerably more.
Some physical therapist assistants may earn as much as $71,000 over the course of the year.
Educational and Licensing Requirements
All states require that practicing physical therapy assistants be licensed. In addition, physical therapy assistants must be at least 18, and have graduated from high school or hold an equivalent degree.
In general, most states require the following in order to be licensed as a physical therapy assistant:
- Complete a physical therapy assistant program. Most of these programs confer an associate’s degree and take two years for a full-time student to complete. In addition, the program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
- Take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). Some states limit the number of times a candidate may retake the exam, so it is important that the student only take the exam when he or she is fully prepared to pass it.
- Some states also require that all candidates take and pass a state jurisprudence exam. This exam evaluates the candidate’s understanding of how the state’s laws interact with the practice of physical therapy.
Finally, some states allow licensure by endorsement. This permits physical therapy assistants who have already been licensed in another state to become licensed without having to repeat their course work and the NPTE. However, they must usually take the jurisprudence exam if it is required by the state they are seeking licensure in.
Becoming a physical therapy assistant is currently an excellent career choice. This field enjoys robust employment options, competitive wages and is highly respected by fellow healthcare professionals and the public alike. Furthermore, the sustained growth this field is experiencing makes it likely that the physical therapy assistant will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future.