Getting Started Healthcare

Job Spotlight: Physical Therapist Assistant (VIDEO)

Written by Miranda Pennington

Specialized health careers are a fast growing field in this country—the medical school rat race isn’t for everyone, so plenty of individuals with a passion for health care and an interest in medicine are pursuing assistants degrees to pharmacy technicians, doctors, dentists, and more. This week’s Job Spotlight is on Physical Therapist Assistants.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PTAs will experience at 41% growth through 2020, largely due to an aging Baby Boomer population and extended lifespans. See if this vital role is the right one for you!

What do Physical Therapist Assistants Do?

First and foremost, PTAs assist physical therapists. This may mean carrying out patient care, supervising patient therapies, providing feedback, performing routine tasks, documenting treatment, consulting with therapy staff, administering specific exercises or therapy tasks, or completing patient evaluations.

PTAs may use therapy equipment (from prosthetics to specialty care accessories) as on-the-job tools, and need to be well-versed in technology from accounting to patient management software. A background in therapy or counseling and exceptional customer service and communication skills are also huge advantages.

So, are you patient, good with people, and compassionate by nature? PTA may be the right field to maximize your talents and work with people who need your help to improve their lives.

How to Become One

Coursework for the profession usually includes physiology, medical terminology, procedures for rehabilitation, algebra, English and psychology, hands-on clinical work in physical therapy treatment centers, and first aid training and certification in CPR. Most professional physical therapists require their assistants to have vocational school training, related on-the-job experience, or an Associate’s Degree. Your school should provide opportunities like internships or entry-level jobs that acclimate you to a clinic or hospital environment.

You also need to maintain physical fitness levels that allow you sufficient mobility to support patients, which may involve bending, crouching, and lifting. .

You’ll also need to pass a board certification exam. The requirements vary, but generally you must graduate from an accredited program and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination at the physical therapy assistant level. The test has 200 questions covering such topics as clinical applications, devices, equipment, and safety. Some states also require their own examinations, and many require continuing education units for license renewal. Check with your state licensing board for up-to-date information.

Physical therapy assistants differ from physical therapy aids in that aides are most often trained on the job and straight out of high school—PTAs are less limited in the services they can provide and do not need as much supervision by a physician or physical therapist.


The wages for a PTA can range from $32K to $80K annually—the median is around $61K. The best opportunities will be found in skilled nursing centers, acute care hospitals, and facilities that treat or house the elderly.

Hiring Landscape

The climate for aspiring PTAs is pretty good—there are an average of 9 candidates for every available position (that doesn’t sound great,  but if you were applying for a job with an English PhD there would be hundreds!)

Top employers include:

  • Genesis HealthCare
  • Kindred HealthCare
  • Genesis Rehabilitation
  • RehabCare
  • Golden Living

Top cities for PTA jobs are generally found in the Midwest and East Coast:

  • Syracuse, NY
  • Toledo, OH
  • Springfield, IL
  • Lancaster, PA

PROs of being a PTA

  • Flexible hours
  • You get to wear scrubs!
  • Hands-on patient care
  • Constant learning

… and CONs

  • Physically demanding job
  • Dependent on outside circumstances for stability, benefits, professional development

A Typical Job Posting

Physical Therapy Assistant, REHAB ASSOCIATES, MI

Start Date: Immediate

Facility Type: SNF

Facility Specialty: Orthopedic & Pulmonary Rehab

Schedule: Full Time Monday – Friday

Hours: 8:00 – 2:00

Lunch: 30m

Founded in 1995, Rehab Associates provides healthcare staffing and management solutions for skilled nursing facilities, outpatient rehab centers, home care clients and public schools. We specialize in staffing for Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech-Language Pathology and Special Education.

We retain outstanding clinical service professionals by enabling those seeking long term personal and professional growth. Through team-building rather than just making one time placements, we pay careful attention to the experience and background of our clinicians, carefully matching them with the right facility’s rehab team. We have over 300 clinicians on active assignment and are continually expanding throughout the Northeast.

Essential Functions

  • Treat patients and provide a plan of care
  • Prepare documentation, progress notes and reports and discharge summaries

Professional Qualifications

  • SNF and Acute Care experience
  • Experience with Rehab Optima

Personal Qualifications

  • Compassionate
  • Resourceful
  • Professional

Required Experience

  • Physical Therapy Assistant : 1 year

Required License or Certification

  • Valid Michigan PTA License & Credentials

Required Education

  • Associate Degree

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.