Physical Therapist Assistant and an elderly patient

How to Become a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant

Educational Requirements, Certifications, Daily Responsibilities, and Salary

Physical Therapist Assistant and an elderly patient

Are you a traveler, wanderer, or aspiring van-lifer who also has a passion for helping others heal? Becoming a traveling physical therapist assistant (PTA) could be your career calling! For those who love providing hands-on patient care and want the chance to work with various patients in different locations, a career as a traveling physical therapist assistant is a natural fit. It’s also a great way to make a living. We recently featured traveling physical therapist assistants on our top PTA jobs list.

This career guide will fill you in on all the details about what it takes to become a traveling physical therapist assistant. We’ll cover the required schooling, certifications, and what to expect from your duties. Our guide details how much you could make and how long you can expect it to take to launch your career as a traveling PTA.

Are interested in becoming a PTA but unsure you’d enjoy frequent travel? Explore the other options on our list of the top physical therapist assistant careers.

Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant?

Traveling physical therapist assistants are experienced PTAs who work short-to-medium-term contracts in varying locations. Frequently, traveling PTAs have completed specialized training that makes them experts in certain areas of care—from orthopedics to geriatrics and everywhere in between.

Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

Like all PTAs, traveling physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists to guide patients through exercise and rehabilitation programs designed to improve strength, mobility, and dexterity. Traveling PTAs do everything from measuring and recording their patients’ progress to helping them use exercise equipment. They also frequently assist with warm-up and cool-down activities like stretching and massage.

Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do Traveling Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

Traveling physical therapist assistants usually work short-to-medium-term contracts, around eight to 12 weeks at a time. Depending on their areas of expertise, traveling PTAs may work within hospitals, walk-in clinics, dedicated rehabilitation facilities, or private-practice PT clinics. Traveling physical therapist assistants may rely on their own network to secure contracts or partner with healthcare staffing companies that coordinate where and when they’ll be assigned to work.

Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of traveling physical therapist assistants include:

  • Observing patients and recording their status
  • Helping patients perform specific exercises as part of their treatment plan
  • Treating patients with hands-on techniques like stretching or massage
  • Helping patients use exercise equipment or medical devices like walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs
  • Educating patients and their caregivers on how to continue their progress at home

Other physical therapist assistant duties may include preparing equipment, scheduling appointments, and light administration work like responding to emails and answering incoming calls.

Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Hours & Schedule

Most traveling physical therapist assistants work full-time, 40-hour workweeks, though part-time jobs are also available. Traveling PTAs usually have a fairly predictable schedule—a nice bonus of working in a non-emergency environment. Some physical therapy clinics may be open on weekends or later than standard business hours to accommodate their patients’ schedules. However, it’s usually rare for traveling PTAs to work late at night.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant?

To thrive as a traveling physical therapist assistant, you’ll need a strong sense of empathy and plenty of patience. Some of the patients you’ll be working with may be in chronic pain and feeling depressed or frustrated because of their physical limitations. Having a calming, soothing presence will serve you well. You’ll also need good physical strength and stamina for a career as a traveling PTA. You’ll frequently be squatting, bending over, or possibly even lifting patients who may have limited mobility.

Physical Therapist stretching a patient's arm

Why is a Traveling Career a Great Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

Some people have an innate desire to explore different places and meet new people, which are excellent traits for traveling physical therapist assistants. For those who tend to get restless in their jobs and crave new experiences, a career as a traveling PTA can be ideal. Like any PTA career, you’ll also enjoy the fulfillment of helping others become healthier and more independent.

Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Schooling, Training, & Certifications

What Degree Do You Need to be a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant?

To become a traveling PTA, you’ll first need to complete a physical therapist assistant associates degree program from an accredited college or university. Most associate degree programs require full two years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your PTA degree in as little as 21 months.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant?

Just like any other major achievement in life, starting a career as a traveling PTA is an accomplishment that’s best broken down into a series of smaller goals. If you are working full-time while taking classes part-time toward your PTA degree, it may take longer than if you were to take a full class load. Our step-by-step breaks down the necessary steps to become a traveling physical therapist assistant.

1. Enroll in a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Degree Program

The first step on your journey to becoming a traveling physical therapist assistant is enrolling in a PTA program at an accredited college or university. Even if you weren’t the high-school valedictorian, PTA careers are accessible to almost anyone willing to work hard and apply themselves. To qualify for the PTA degree program at Provo College, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED, a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, and a reliable Internet connection. Some PTA programs may also require completing background checks or drug screenings.

2. Earn Your Physical Therapist Assistant Associates Degree

Like any associates degree track, your physical therapist assistant program will include a few general education requirements like math, English, science, and psychology. These courses will sharpen your communication and critical-thinking skills and help you become a more well-rounded professional.

The bulk of your PTA degree program will focus on the specific skills and knowledge you need to excel as a traveling physical therapist assistant. Coursework includes building a deep understanding of the human body and how it moves, plus how to provide therapy to all types of patients with various medical conditions. You can expect to take courses covering kinesiology, pharmacology, and orthopedics and learn about various diseases and disabilities. You’ll also participate in plenty of hands-on training to teach you how to rehabilitate patients safely and effectively.

The final stage of your physical therapist assistant education involves performing supervised therapy work with actual patients in a clinical setting. This real-world experience is invaluable for building the confidence, knowledge, and skills you’ll need to thrive as a traveling physical therapist assistant.

When deciding where to go to school for your physical therapist assistant degree, you may want to consider colleges that offer additional benefits like career counseling and job-placement services. Getting your PTA education somewhere that takes a proactive role in helping you land your first job can remove a lot of stress from starting a new career.

3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

Before earning your PTA license and working as a traveling physical therapist assistant, you’ll need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) to prove you’ve mastered the required skills and knowledge for safe and effective patient care. The exam is a multiple-choice test with 200 questions. You’ll have approximately four hours to complete the exam.

Practice exams can be highly beneficial to help prepare you for test day/ Practice exams are available from the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (the same organization that administers the NPTE). The Practice Exam and Assessment Tool—or PEAT for short—will give you an idea of what to expect during the exam and provide real-time feedback on areas you need to improve.

Not everyone passes the NPTE on their first attempt, including many people who have had long and successful careers as physical therapist assistants. If you come up short of the required passing score on your first try, don’t panic. However, be advised that you can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period, so be sure to take your exam preparation seriously.

Multi-ethnic group of professionals in lab coats

4. Get Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

Once you’ve passed the NPTE, you’ll be eligible to become licensed in the state(s) where you plan to work. Because the NPTE is a national exam, it’s usually easy to transfer your scores to gain licensure in different states. This can be especially important for traveling physical therapist assistants, who may work in another state every time they take on a new contract. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy will be your go-to resource for determining each state’s licensing requirements for PTAs.

Different states have varying requirements for maintaining your PTA license. However, most states will require occasional completion of ongoing education programs or proof of current employment and relevant work experience.

5. Gain Work Experience and Earn Additional Certifications

While there aren’t any hard-and-fast rules about how much PTA experience you’ll need to become a traveling physical therapist assistant, you’ll likely need to spend some time in a non-travel PTA role to build your experience. Traveling PTAs earn some of the highest salaries among all physical therapist assistants, so it stands to reason that most travel PTA jobs will go to candidates with solid experience and advanced certifications.

Regarding additional certifications for traveling physical therapist assistants, you can take many different directions for your continued education. The American Physical Therapy Association offers some of the most-recognized advanced certifications for PTAs. Their offerings include orthopedics, geriatrics, neurology, wound management, and cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation certifications.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant?

The cost of earning a physical therapist assistant associate degree varies significantly between institutions and according to your financial situation. When comparing the cost of college, be sure to ask how much you can expect to spend on lab fees, books, and other materials. Some colleges will include all these as part of a flat-rate pricing structure per credit hour, saving you money in the long run.

You should inquire about financial aid programs, which can make college significantly more affordable. Most college financial-aid offices have you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines your eligibility for federal and state grants, plus loans and institutional aid.

Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do Traveling Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

Physical therapist assistants throughout the United States earn an average annual salary* of around $61,000, which is about $29.00 per hour. Salaries for PTAs among the top 25% of earners start at over $75,000. In comparison, physical therapist assistants in the top 10% of earners routinely bring in $80,000 per year or more.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide salary* data specifically for traveling physical therapist assistants, traveling PTAs tend to be on the higher end of the salary* range. Traveling physical therapist assistants often have years of experience and advanced certifications, making them more attractive candidates for the best traveling PTA jobs.

Physical therapy team with elderly patient

Ready to Start Your Career as a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant?

If you’re a wandering soul who loves the idea of visiting different places to help patients along their healing journey, becoming a traveling physical therapist assistant could be the best PTA career for you. Every contract offers new experiences with people from all walks of life—and of course, the unique satisfaction of knowing you’re making a real difference in their recoveries.

Learn more about the physical therapist assistant program at Provo College, and get started on the road to an exciting and fulfilling new PTA career today!