Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are valuable healthcare workers who serve at the forefront of patient care. PTAs are trained to work under a licensed physical therapist’s supervision to help individuals who suffer from injuries or long-term conditions that impair their ability to be fully physically mobile.
If you are looking for a hands-on career in healthcare, here are 5 reasons to consider becoming a PTA.
1. Good career outlook
Not only is physical therapy a growing industry, but the career outlook for PTAs is also positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for physical therapist assistants is projected to grow by 35%, which is much faster than many other occupations. This means that around 33,200 new PTA jobs will be created from 2020-2030.
Additionally, U.S. News and World Report ranked PTA #1 in Best Healthcare Support Jobs and #13 in its list of the 100 Best Jobs. This recognition is earned by weighing factors like salary, unemployment and future growth as well as job satisfaction.
2. Get started quickly
You can earn your PTA degree in less than two years. The Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant program at Herzing can be completed in as few as 20 months. This degree will allow you to sit for the National Licensing Examination for Physical Therapist Assistants and prepares you for entry-level positions in the field.
Your studies will not be limited to just classroom experiences. You will also have hands-on clinical and laboratory learning, which allows you to apply your knowledge and skills in a real-world environment to fully prepare you for work as a PTA.
Working as a PTA can allow you some flexibility. While the BLS shows that 60% of PTAs work in the offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, PTAs also work in hospitals, physician offices, nursing facilities and even for the government.
Most PTAs will work full-time, but part-time positions are also common. Some PTAs work regular eight-hour shifts five days a week, but sometimes overtime and weekend shifts are required to accommodate patient schedules.
Although PTAs work under the supervision of a physical therapist, they still have many autonomous duties. A PTA's job is to provide assistance to the physical therapist and reinforce their advice with patients. Sometimes, after a patient has been evaluated by the physical therapist and a treatment plan is in place, the PTA will work directly with patients to implement the treatment plan. Among their other responsibilities, PTAs also:
- Observe and report a patient’s status before, during and after therapy to the physical therapist
- Implement specific exercises from a patient care plan
- Use treatment techniques such as massage, stretching and ultrasounds
- Assist in the use of treatment equipment such as walkers, crutches or prosthetics
- Educate patients and family members on what to do after treatment
5. Help others
It can be very rewarding to see the positive impact of your work as a PTA can have on a person’s life. You get to help people get back on their feet – sometimes quite literally! Much of a PTA’s role is teaching others how to prevent injuries and care for themselves. They not only help others by physically working with them to regain mobility, but they also educate them on what to do after treatment.
Helping others doesn’t always have to be in direct patient care. With additional experience, PTAs could go on to teach academic PTA programs. They might also find the opportunity to tell people in the community how to live healthier lives by helping lead community fitness and other activity programs.
Is a PTA career right for you?
If helping patients with mobility seems like something you would like to do, then you might begin wondering what skills and qualities you’ll need to become a successful PTA. Here are a few:
- Confidence: Not only should PTAs have confidence in themselves, but they should also inspire confidence in their patients. PTAs often need to push their patients so they can achieve a greater range of motion. By being confident in your ability to help them to the fullest extent of their care plan, you also encourage patients to believe in themselves.
Critical Thinking: As a PTA, you will need to make quick decisions while working with patients because you are constantly monitoring their mobility and pain level. Likewise, you also need to be able to notice subtle changes so you can address the patient’s strengths and weaknesses. All of these changes should be reported back to the physical therapist you are working for so they can adjust the patient’s care plan as needed.
Empathy: Keep in mind that physical therapy patients have experienced some sort of setback that inhibits their ability to perform normal activities. Part of your job is to cheer them on and help them achieve their goals. Patients can tell when you are just going through the motions and when you really care about their welfare, and it can make a difference in their progress.
Listening: Listening is key and helps you be more empathetic. Patients know their own pain level, challenges and abilities best, so you need to be open to what they are saying to build trust and work together toward the best possible outcomes.
Check out these 4 steps to becoming a PTA, if you’re interested!