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Physical Therapist Assistant

Overview

Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) perform components of physical therapy procedures and related tasks, as directed by a supervising physical therapist (PT). PTAs help patients and clients who have movement difficulties due to injury or disease, by assisting the PT with therapies designed to improve mobility, relieve pain, prevent or limit permanent physical disability, and promote overall fitness and wellness. Patients may include accident victims and individuals with short- and long-term disabling conditions, such as low back pain, fractures, head injuries, arthritis, heart disease, and cerebral palsy.

To learn more about this career, watch the “You Can Be Me” video on the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website. The ‘Prospective Students’ section includes all the information that you need to decide if this is a career option for you.

Working Conditions

PTAs work in a variety of settings including outpatient physical therapy clinics, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, schools, and sports and fitness facilities. Most PTAs work Monday through Friday, although work hours may vary, depending on the facility and employment status. For example, most hospitals and skilled nursing facilities provide reduced coverage on weekends and many outpatient physical therapy offices and clinics have evening and weekend hours to accommodate patients' schedules.

This job can be physically demanding because PTAs often have to walk, stoop, kneel, crouch, lift, and stand for long periods of time. In addition, Physical Therapist Assistants may be required to move heavy equipment and lift patients or help them to turn, stand, or walk.

Academic Requirements

Physical Therapist Assistant education is provided at the associate degree level (two-year program) by colleges and universities that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. All states require PTAs to pass the PTA National Physical Therapy Examination to be licensed or certified to work with patients and clients. Each state has specific licensure requirements that can also include juris prudence exams.

For more information about becoming a PTA, including colleges and universities that provide PTA education programs, see the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Website.