Profile: Physical Therapy Assistant
Learn about the day-to-day experience of being a physical therapy assistant.
Physical Therapy Assistant
Long Beach Memorial Medical Center – Long Beach, CA
Why did you become a physical therapy assistant?
I was injured in the service and I had to go through physical therapy. I really enjoyed it. I had already taken physics and chemistry, so I decided to enroll at the University of Wisconsin to get my associate’s in physical therapy assisting.
What are your job responsibilities?
I assist with treatment, but I can’t do anything privately or on my own. The law requires one physical therapist [in the office] for every two assistants. In my job I oversee PT technicians who do clerical work and maintain the facility and the clinic. They order supplies and do all the billing and paperwork.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Physical therapists are a fun group of people to work with. There isn’t a lot of stress, as there is in the business world. Here, there is no corporate ladder. You are what you are. You try to do the best you can. If things go well, you can move into research.
I work with people who have balance problems stemming from inner ear disturbances, knee or hip injuries, and brain injuries. We also see people with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease. I love that I can help people almost instantly. I love the fact that when we’re done with them, they’re fine. They’re back to their lives.
What are some of the job’s biggest challenges?
As an assistant you’re limited to PTA duties. There are three PTA levels. I’ve been a PTA Level 2 for years, but I’m still at the bottom of the food chain as far as PT field goes. But if you like what you do, that’s not a problem.
Eventually I’d like to do research and run a lab. Right now I’m doing a bunch of paperwork, but I don’t have to. I’m just doing it to help out the PTs. A good PTA will anticipate what the PT wants; you have to be a couple steps ahead of the clinic.
Why did you choose to work in a hospital?
Hospitals usually pay less hourly, but the job security is greater. I also like the variety of working in a hospital. I work with acute or recently injured people who are staying in the hospital. We also have an outpatient clinic.
What’s your advice for people entering the field?
Have a set plan about what you expect from yourself. Are you okay being a PTA until you retire? It’s not true that you can use your PTA degree to become a PT. You have to start fresh and start over. If you think you want to be a PT, just get your master’s or doctorate right away.
I chose to become a PTA because I wanted a job that paid reasonably well, and now I’m making $25 an hour. From two years of school that’s not too bad. Still, in California, $25 per hour doesn’t do much for you. I’ve reached the top of the payscale.
What type of personality will do well as a physical therapist?
You should be sports minded and physically active. You should like the outdoors. You can’t be out of shape and overweight, that’s not a good fit.
You’ll get a lot of personal satisfaction out of this job. You see quick results. You get to meet interesting people. But if you’re going into PT to get rich, then this isn’t the job for you.
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