Explore Different Destinations for Your PTA Career
Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are one of the fastest-growing career fields in the healthcare industry, and for a good reason. It’s an incredibly rewarding field of work where you’ll play an essential role in helping patients get healthier on a daily basis. It’s also worth noting that PTA jobs are among the highest-paying healthcare careers you can achieve without spending four or more years in school.
An added bonus of a career as a physical therapist assistant is the surprising variety of places where PTAs can work. There are many opportunities for physical therapist assistants to specialize in specific practice areas or patient populations, depending on what you find most fulfilling. We’ve rounded up eight of the best PTA jobs available once you’ve completed your physical therapist assistant program.
Want to know more about what it takes to land one of the best PTA jobs? Click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a physical therapist assistant.
What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
Physical therapist assistants work under the direction of physical therapists to provide hands-on therapy to patients recovering from a wide range of injuries or illnesses. PTAs work with all people from all walks of life, from competitive athletes to elderly patients. As a PTA, you’ll play an essential role in helping people recover from injuries, allowing them to return to their former activities or perform day-to-day tasks more safely and comfortably.
Common on-the-job tasks for physical therapist assistants may include:
- Observing patients before, during, and after therapy
- Guiding patients through performing prescribed exercises
- Assisting patients with stretches, massages, or range-of-motion activities
- Monitoring and reporting on patients’ progress to a supervising PT
- Helping patients learn to use devices like walkers or wheelchairs
- Educating patients and their caregivers about how to continue treatment at home
Physical Therapist Assistant Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapist assistants across the U.S. earn an average annual salary* of around $61,180, which works out to about $29.42 per hour. However, experienced PTAs that work in specialty positions can earn more. Physical therapist assistant salaries in the top 25% start at over $75,000, while the top 10% of earners among all PTA jobs can expect to bring in over $80,000 per year.
Physical Therapist Assistant Job Outlook
A significant percentage of the population is poised to enter old age, meaning they will require increasing medical care—including physical therapy. As a result, physical therapist assistants are projected to be in growing demand for years. The BLS estimates the overall number of PTA jobs will increase at a rate of 24% between the years 2021 and 2031.
Where Can a Physical Therapist Assistant Work?
After completing a PTA program, passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), and becoming licensed in your state, you can work in various settings and with different patient populations. Whether you’re enthusiastic about helping athletes return to competition, assisting regular folks to return to their jobs, or helping elderly patients maintain their independence and quality of life, there’s a perfect PTA job for you.
Read on to learn more about the top eight physical therapist assistant jobs and what it takes to get your foot in the door—including the educational requirements, additional certifications that could help your career, and much more.
In no particular order, our top 8 physical therapist assistant jobs are:
- Traveling physical therapist assistant
- Sports physical therapist assistant
- Occupational physical therapist assistant
- Home health physical therapist assistant
- Acute care physical therapist assistant
- Rehabilitation physical therapist assistant
- Nursing home physical therapist assistant
- School physical therapist assistant
1. Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
Traveling physical therapist assistants are experienced PTAs working wherever they’re most needed. They perform all the duties of other specialized physical therapist assistants in different facilities throughout their state or even the country.
Where Do Traveling Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Traveling physical therapist assistants usually work short-to-medium term contracts (often 8 to 12 weeks) at all types of healthcare facilities—from sports-medicine clinics to elder-care or rehabilitation facilities. Often, they’ll be employees or contractors of healthcare staffing organizations who facilitate where they work and with which PTs they partner.
Traveling Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Like all physical therapist assistants, traveling PTAs must complete an associate’s degree from a PTA program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). All traveling PTAs must also pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) to become licensed by all the states where they’ll practice.
Because traveling PTAs tend to be at the top of their field, many traveling physical therapist assistants also specialize in certain areas of care and receive additional certifications from organizations like the American Physical Therapy Association. PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways allow physical therapist assistants to achieve advanced skills in several areas like orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics, and more.
Why is a Traveling Career a Great Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
Working in various clinics offers traveling physical therapist assistants the chance to meet different people and learn from PTs with differing specialties. For people with a bit of a nomadic spirit who enjoy new experiences, people, and places, a career as a traveling physical therapist assistant could be a great fit.
2. Sports Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
Sports physical therapist assistants specialize in helping athletes prevent and recover from injuries. Under the guidance of physical therapists, sports PTAs help athletes with rehabilitative exercises following sports- or training-related injuries and with general recovery and preventative measures before and after intense athletic efforts.
Where Do Sports Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Sports PTAs can work anywhere from specialized sports-medicine physical therapy clinics to school or university athletic departments and even professional sports teams. As a sports physical therapy assistant, you could be the person taping up the star players’ ankles before the big game or giving them a massage afterward. It takes hard work, experience, and a bit of luck to land a job with a professional sports program. However, some dream-job-level careers are available for sports PTAs with a passion for helping athletes achieve their best.
Sports Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Like all physical therapist assistants, sports PTAs must complete an associate’s degree from an accredited PTA program and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam before becoming licensed. It’s also common for the top sports physical therapist assistant jobs to seek candidates with specialized training in orthopedics or sports medicine. Advanced certifications are available via the APTA’s PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways and the PTA Specialty Certification in Orthopedics.
Why is Sports a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
Many sports physical therapist assistants find satisfaction in working with athletes who are also passionate about getting the most out of the human body. Becoming a sports PTA is an excellent career for former competitive athletes or people who find satisfaction in helping others overcome obstacles and achieve higher performance levels.
3. Women’s Health Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Women’s Health Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
As a women’s health physical therapist assistant, you’ll work with women at all pre-and post-natal care stages. In addition to caring for expecting or recent mothers, women’s health physical therapist assistants also treat pelvic issues like incontinence or chronic pain. Most people haven’t learned to control their pelvic floor muscles in the same way they move their limbs and other body parts. As a result, women’s health physical therapist assistants can provide life-changing relief for many patients.
Where Do Women’s Health Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Women’s health PTAs may work in specialized women’s health clinics, general physical therapy clinics located within hospitals, or walk-in clinics. Like other physical therapist assistants, PTAs specializes in women’s health work under the direction of a licensed physical therapist. While women tend to experience more pelvic issues than men, some women’s health PTAs specializing in pelvic floor treatment may also care for male patients having pelvic problems due to surgery, trauma, or other illnesses.
Women’s Health Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
All physical therapist assistants must complete an associate’s degree from an accredited PTA program, and women’s health PTAs are no exception. After passing the NPTE exam and earning their license, women’s health physical therapist assistants who want to reach the top of their field may seek advanced certifications like the Pelvic Rehabilitation Practitioner Certification. Before they’re eligible to sit for the PRPC certification exam, PTAs must spend a certain amount of hours being trained and mentored by a physical therapist specializing in pelvic health.
Why is Women’s Health a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
Because of their intimate and personal nature, many people don’t open up about pelvic issues the same way they might with more outwardly visible health conditions. Women’s health PTAs play an important role in dismantling healthcare stigmas and provide much-needed relief for patients who often feel limited personally and socially. Women’s health physical therapist assistants can be a ray of light for people who assumed they’d have to deal with their health problems for the rest of their lives.
4. Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
When people’s illnesses or injuries are so severe that they cannot leave their homes to attend outpatient physical therapy, they rely upon home health physical therapist assistants to bring treatment to them. Home health PTAs visit patients in their home residences to help them with exercises and regimens designed to restore their mobility, strength, and independence.
Where Do Home Health Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
When people’s illnesses or injuries are so severe that they cannot leave their homes to attend outpatient physical therapy, they rely upon home health physical therapist assistants. Home health PTAs visit patients in their home residences to help them with exercises and regimens designed to restore their mobility, strength, and independence.
Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Like other PTA careers, home health physical therapist assistants need to complete an associate’s degree from an accredited PTA program and pass the NPTE exam. Many of the best home health physical therapist assistant jobs prefer PTAs with advanced training under their belts, which can be completed through the APTA and other certifying organizations. For example, home health PTAs working with stroke patients may consider specializing in neurology. PTAs who want to help patients recover from severe accidents may seek out additional orthopedic training.
Why is Home Health a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
Becoming a home health physical therapist assistant is one of the best PTA jobs for people who enjoy new environments and experiences. Caring for people in their homes means no two days on the job will ever be quite alike. Since you’ll be working with people who are too ill or injured to travel for treatment, watching them accomplish major milestones in their recoveries can be very satisfying.
5. Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
It may seem counterintuitive to ask people to exercise after a severe injury or surgery. Acute care physical therapy assistants help people take the first steps toward recovery after significant incidents like surgery or other trauma, such as severe illnesses like stroke or sepsis.
Where Do Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Acute care PTAs work most commonly in hospitals or critical-care clinics—wherever patients are treated for life-threatening incidents. They typically work with hospitalized patients in their rooms or the surrounding hallways. Acute care PTAs may also work at on-site physical therapy facilities to help their supervising physical therapist. At these facilities, acute care PTAs assess patients’ conditions and guide them through exercises and treatments appropriate for their current physical capabilities.
Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
After earning their associate’s degree from an accredited PTA program and passing the NPTE exam to become licensed by the state where they practice, most acute care PTAs also complete specialized training in acute care physical therapy. The American Physical Therapy Association offers advanced proficiency training in acute care, where physical therapist assistants learn the necessary skills to work with patients hospitalized with severe medical conditions.
Why is Acute Care a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
If you desire a fast-paced work environment where you’ll care for the most vulnerable and critically ill patients, a career as an acute care physical therapist assistant could be right up your alley. There’s a unique satisfaction in watching somebody take their first steps after major heart surgery or a serious infection. You’ll likely be a part of many memorable and emotional moments between patients and their families.
6. Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
While all forms of physical therapy involve helping patients become healthier and more mobile, rehabilitation physical therapy is explicitly focused on patients living with more serious medical conditions. Rehabilitation physical therapist assistants work primarily with patients who have undergone significant life changes due to disabilities or major illnesses to help them live as independently and comfortably as possible.
Where Do Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
Many rehabilitation physical therapist assistants work in specialized clinics, nursing, or assisted living facilities. They commonly work with patients with strokes, traumatic brain injuries, or other long-term illnesses. While most physical therapy is focused primarily on strength and movement, rehabilitation PTAs take a more holistic approach to help people under their care live more satisfying and fulfilling lives, despite their medical challenges.
Rehabilitation Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Similar to other PTA positions, rehabilitation physical therapist assistants must become licensed by earning an associate’s degree from an accredited program and passing the NPTE exam. Many rehabilitation PTAs also seek additional certifications in neurology, where they receive more advanced training in treating injuries or degenerative conditions affecting the nervous system. The American Physical Therapy Association offers advanced proficiency training in neurology for PTAs looking to stand out from the competition.
Why is Rehabilitation a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?
Most of the patients you’ll work with as rehabilitation physical therapist assistant will be at a point in their lives where they are very much in need of healing. And while some PTAs are most satisfied working with people like athletes, others find the work of rehabilitation therapy even more fulfilling. The people you’ll meet as a rehabilitation physical therapist assistant will have many aspects of their lives changed for the better, thanks to the care you provide.
7. Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
It’s well-established that people require more medical care as they age, which is why nursing home physical therapist assistants are important. They help older patients stay active, healthy, and capable throughout their later years. In collaboration with physical therapists, nursing home PTAs develop and guide their patients through exercise and strengthening programs attuned to their levels of mobility and overall physical health.
Where Do Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
As you’d suspect from the job title, nursing home PTAs work almost exclusively in elder-care or assisted-living facilities. Nursing home physical therapist assistants work with elderly patients in all types of physical condition, meaning no two therapy sessions will be the same. Some patients may be able to handle more intensive activity, while others may simply need assistance learning to use their walker or wheelchair safely.
Nursing Home Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Nursing home physical therapist assistants are licensed PTAs, meaning they’ve earned an associate’s degree from an accredited program, and also passed the NPTE exam. Most nursing home PTAs also seek out advanced training in geriatrics, to better prepare them to attend to the unique needs and considerations of older patients. The American Physical Therapy Association offers advanced proficiency training programs focused specifically on geriatrics, which can give nursing home physical therapist assistants a major advantage when looking for top-paying PTA jobs.
Why are Nursing Homes a Great Place for Physical Therapist Assistants to Work?
Many people find great satisfaction in working with older patients, as they offer a unique perspective on life, having lived through such drastic changes in the world. Many nursing home physical therapist assistants also take pride in helping older patients maintain their independence and dignity as they age. If you enjoy forming friendships and hearing stories from your grandparents or other elders, a career as a nursing home PTA might be an excellent career for you.
8. School Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a School Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
School physical therapist assistants are unique from other PTA jobs because they work primarily with children in learning environments. School PTAs help students with injuries or disabilities adapt to their surroundings, so they can continue to receive a quality education. They may provide hands-on therapy to students or recommend adaptive equipment or technologies to help them perform their best at school. t be an excellent career for you.
Where Do School Physical Therapist Assistants Work?
School PTAs can work in public, private, or residential schools and treat children or adolescents of all ages under a physical therapist’s direction. School physical therapist assistants work with all types of students, including special-needs students, students with disabilities, or those who may need specific accommodations due to injuries or illnesses.
School Physical Therapist Assistant Education and Training
Like all PTAs, school physical therapist assistants must complete an associate’s degree from an accredited PTA program and pass the NPTE exam before becoming licensed in the state where they practice. Because properly caring for school-aged children requires specialized knowledge and training, many school physical therapist assistants also complete additional certifications in pediatrics from the American Physical Therapy Association. Having advanced certifications could be a major plus on your resume if you want to stand out when going after one of the best jobs for school PTAs.
Why are Schools a Great Place for Physical Therapist Assistants to Work?
If you love the idea of working with kids, becoming a school physical therapist assistant could be a fantastic career choice. School-aged children learn so much every day, and helping them stay engaged in school so they can achieve their dreams is a gratifying way to spend your workdays. And because school PTAs help children with all types of physical or developmental conditions, there can be a good amount of variety in your day-to-day tasks.
Physical therapy is an incredibly varied field, which means earning your physical therapist assistant degree can open up a surprising number of different opportunities. Whether you envision a career working with kids, athletes, elderly people, or critically ill patients, becoming a physical therapist assistant is one of the best ways to launch a long and productive healthcare career.
Ready to get started on the road to your new career? Learn more about the physical therapist assistant program at Provo College, or explore our other healthcare degree programs. Whichever route you choose, building new skills and knowledge is always a worthwhile investment in your future!