Although many of their duties overlap, a physical therapist assistant and a physical therapist aide are two different occupations. A physical therapist assistant works with patients to help them recover movement in their limbs and manage pain while a physical therapist aide works on tasks that indirectly affect patient care. Both work under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. Here are some of the specific duties for each occupation.
Physical Therapist Assistant
- Treat patients using a variety of physical therapy techniques such as massage and stretching
- Use equipment to assist patients with their recovery such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or walkers
- Assist patients as they go through a variety of exercises
- Record patient progress and report to the physical therapist
- Educate patient and family about after-treatment care
Physical Therapist Aide
- Clerical tasks such as filling out paperwork, answering phones, and ordering supplies
- Clean and organize treatment room
- Set up equipment needed for therapy
- Assist patients in getting to and from the therapy room
Certification Needed to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant
To become a physical therapist aide, you must have a high school diploma. In most jurisdictions, no formal education is required as you will typically receive on-the-job training. How long it takes to complete training depends on the nature of the work and your trainer. Physical therapist aides are not required to be licensed, but cannot perform any type of physical therapy on a patient without one.
Physical therapist assistants, however, are required to obtain an associate’s degree at minimum. This takes about two years to complete and programs are offered at technical schools, community colleges, and vocational schools. Coursework generally includes anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, clinical pathology, ethics and values, and behavioral science.
In most states, physical therapist assistants must be licensed or certified. If this is the case in your area, you will need to graduate from an accredited program before you can sit for the National Physical Therapy Exam. Your state licensing board may require additional tests and continuing education to obtain or maintain your license. It is best to contact them for more specific information.
People in both professions obtain additional education to qualify for job opportunities in management, administration, and education.
Physical therapist assistants and physical therapist aides must have the following traits to be successful in their occupations:
Detail oriented: You will be assisting in the care of patients. To ensure patients receive the best care possible, it is important you are organized, able to follow directions, and have a good eye for details.
Dexterity: You will be using your hands to manipulate the patient’s body in various ways as well as setting up equipment. It is important that not only are you are comfortable working with your hands, but that you have full control over them.
Interpersonal skills: The bulk of your time will be spent interacting with patients, many of whom will be in pain. For maximum employer and patient satisfaction, you must be able to handle clients professionally and with courtesy and patience.
Stamina and physical strength: In addition to moving patients and helping them with exercises, you will be standing for long periods of time as well as kneeling, stooping, and bending.
What Does A Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
Most physical therapist assistants and aides work in ambulatory health care facilities. The second largest employer was state and private hospitals. Nursing and residential care facilities are the third largest employer of physical therapist assistants and aides. These facilities are typically clean, but you will be exposed to communicable diseases.
Typically, people in both occupation work full time. About 1 out of 4 work part time. You may be required to work evening and weekend hours. As noted before, you will spend the majority of your shift on your feet and moving around, so it is important to be physically fit.
Physical Therapist Salary
For physical therapist assistants, the average salary was $49,690 in 2010. The top 10% made $68,820 and the bottom 10% made 31,070. For physical therapist aides, the average salary was $23,680 and the top and bottom 10% was $34,670 and $17,270. Like other professions, the exact amount you will be paid will depend on your education, experience, and location. You may also be afforded benefits such as paid vacation and health insurance.
In 2010, there were 67,400 physical therapist assistants and 47,000 physical therapist aides. The job opportunities for these occupations are expected to grow 46% for physical therapist assistants and 43% for aides by 2020. The growth in both fields if fueled by an aging population that is more active than previous generations. Older patients, however, are more at risk of succumbing to chronic and debilitation medical problems that require physical therapy such as osteoporosis. Medical research and advancements in medical technology is also fueling the growth.
To reduce costs and increase the number of patients they can see, physical therapists will hire more assistants who can perform most or all of the therapy a patient requires. While job prospects are good, competition for jobs may be severe. The best opportunities will be found at hospitals, nursing, and orthopedic facilities that treat elderly patients.