Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)

Learn about the different career options and job responsibilities of a physical therapy assistant.

The Basics

What you'll do: PTAs help physical therapists in their daily activities which include assisting patients during rehabilitation. You'll be trained to conduct therapeutic exercises, provide therapeutic massage, observe patients and evaluate data on a patient's progress. You may fit or adjust supportive devices such as leg braces or crutches. You may also perform clerical duties such as answering phones, ordering supplies and completing forms.

Where you'll work: Health practitioner offices, hospitals, nursing care facilities, home health care

Degree you'll need: Associate's degree

Median annual salary: $39,430*

Gain Real World Experience

physical therapy assistant

To gain some experience before you start the program, volunteer with a physical therapist, health care practitioner or at a local nursing home.

It will also help to have a strong, well-rounded academic background in biology, chemistry, physics, health, art and the social sciences.

Physical Therapist Assistant Training & Licensing

Physical therapist assistants must earn an associate's degree in physical therapist assisting in order to practice. Currently there are over 250 accredited physical therapist assistant programs in the country.

Curriculum varies from program to program, but in addition to the theory and practice of physical therapy, you'll probably study the basic medical sciences and other general education courses. You'll also gain plenty of hands-on experience in a clinical internship.

Aside from earning a PTA degree, licensing requirements vary from state-to-state. Most states require passage of a state examination, CPR and First Aid certification, and completion of a minimum number of fieldwork hours.

PTA-to-Physical Therapist

Physical therapist assistant curriculum differs from that of the physical therapist and does not provide the needed prerequisites required for physical therapist education. However, if you do decide to become a PT after you are an experienced PTA, you may want to enter an accredited PTA-to-PT program.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Education and Career Guide