What is a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA)?
Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) work under a licensed physical therapist (PT) to provide care and assistance to patients who are relearning movement or other functions, or who are learning to manage pain after an illness or injury.
Physical therapy assistants are an integral part of the care team at any medical facility, and can work in a variety of settings.
PTAs aid physical therapists in providing manual therapy and therapeutic exercises to patients. Physical therapy assistants also set up equipment and treatment areas. PTAs are often found on their feet, so this is a role well suited to high-energy individuals who love to stay busy.
Interpersonal skills also play an important role in this position: PTAs spend much of their time communicating with patients, their families, and other members of the treatment team. In addition, physical therapy assistants often work with people experiencing pain; therefore, an empathetic outlook and a desire to help people are terrific qualities found in many PTAs.
Physical Therapists (PT) vs. Physical Therapy Assistants (PTA)
Both physical therapists and physical therapist assistants help people to attain their highest possible quality of life. PTs and PTAs work with people of all ages and abilities to help them regain function and movement, avoid surgery and/or prescription drugs when possible, and create lifelong healthy habits.
While PTs and PTAs work closely together on a care team, each role has distinct responsibilities. The educational and licensure requirements also differ greatly.
Physical therapists are experts in movement. They improve the quality of life of their patients through prescribed movements and exercise, hands-on care, and educating patients. PTs examine each patient and develop an individual treatment plan that will allow the patient to restore movement or function, reduce or manage pain, and/or regain or maintain independence in daily life.
While PTAs also improve patient quality of life through exercise, movement, patient education and hands-on care, they do so under the direction of a PT. In other words, PTAs help to carry out the treatment plan that PTs initially design. PTs supervise the work of PTAs.
The educational and licensing requirements for PTs and PTAs reflect their differing levels of expertise and responsibility for patient care. PTs have a much longer educational journey than PTAs. PTs must earn a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) in order to practice in the United States.
The length of DPT programs for physical therapists is usually around three years; however, students must typically complete their bachelor’s degree before entering a DPT program, meaning that higher education for physical therapists can take around seven years. There are some programs that combine the undergraduate and graduate elements into a 3+3 format, meaning some PTs can complete their higher education in six years.
In contrast, PTAs are eligible to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) after completing an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree accredited by CAPTE. It generally takes only five semesters of full-time education to complete a PTA degree.
Where do PTAs work?
Physical therapy assistants have the opportunity to work in various inpatient or outpatient settings.
PTAs often work in inpatient settings, including acute care settings and rehabilitation centers. If you’re interested in working as a physical therapy assistant in an inpatient setting, rehabilitation hospitals can be an excellent opportunity to work with collaborative teams using state-of-the-art technology.
Inpatient settings provide PTAs the chance to work with patients over a longer term. If you love to closely watch a patient’s progress toward regaining movement and function, inpatient settings would be a great fit for you.
On the other hand, there are numerous options for outpatient care for PTAs. Outpatient options include home health settings and outpatient therapy clinics.
Home health settings give PTAs a chance to meet patients where they are and to provide critical interventions for patients unable to visit the clinic or who do not need the intensity of an inpatient stay at a hospital. Home health care facilities employ a team of physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, rehabilitation nurses, and other experts as needed to provide high-quality care inside patients’ homes.
The diversity of patients you will meet and treat in home health settings and outpatient clinics will keep your career as a PTA exciting, with new opportunities and problems to solve as you regularly work with new patients.
Whether you’re interested in working at a rehabilitation hospital or in an outpatient setting, your job as a physical therapy assistant with will be rewarding for both you and your patients as you aid them in their progression toward regained movement and function.
What is the daily schedule of a PTA?
A typical day for a PTA can vary depending on the setting, but many of the daily tasks of a PTA are consistent across inpatient and outpatient settings.
These daily tasks could include:
- checking in regularly with the PT to track patient progress and respond to changes
- working directly with patients on exercise or movement
- communicating with other care team members
- updating patient records
Depending on the setting, PTAs may see many patients throughout a day, or have longer sessions with fewer patients. PTAs must also be open and flexible to changes in their schedule as emergencies occur or patients reschedule appointments.
No matter the setting, each day as a PTA is a busy and rewarding experience as you aid patients in their progress toward their goals.
What qualifications are required to be a PTA?
For employment in most care facilities, physical therapist assistants must hold a current PTA license in their state, which can be obtained after completing your associate’s degree in an accredited PTA program.
In addition to a PTA license, many centers require that candidates have a current hands-on CPR/BLS Certification. PTA candidates must also have knowledge of federal and state professional requirements for physical therapy assistants.
While all rehabilitation centers value experienced PTAs, and will look for candidates with prior experience as a physical therapy assistant, new grads are often considered, so don’t hesitate to apply if you are a newly-trained and accredited PTA.
What career advancement opportunities are there for PTAs at Brooks Rehabilitation?
Brooks Rehabilitation is invested in the career and educational advancement of all team members, which is why Brooks offers innovative programs such as tuition assistance and continuing education opportunities through the Brooks Rehabilitation Institute of Higher Learning.
Many team members make Brooks their long-term career home in order to take advantage of the unique specialization and educational opportunities offered at Brooks.
How do I become a physical therapy assistant at Brooks Rehabilitation?
After ensuring your PTA license is current in the state of Florida, applying to become a physical therapy assistant at Brooks Rehabilitation is as easy as navigating to our user-friendly career page and submitting your application online.
After submitting your online application, the hiring team at Brooks will review your credentials and reach out to alert you to next steps, including details about the interview process for new PTAs.
If you have a preferred location in the state of Florida that is not currently available, join our talent community. You can upload your details, and Brooks will contact you as soon as a matching role becomes available.
Apply to be a Physical Therapy Assistant at Brooks today!
Brooks Rehabilitation offers physical therapy assistants a chance to grow and advance in a rewarding, collaborative, patient-centered atmosphere. You can advance your career as a PTA by becoming a member of the growing team of experts at Brooks.
View the available physical therapy assistant positions at Brooks Rehabilitation and apply now!