Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) are medical professionals who help physical therapists perform daily tasks. According to Allalliedhealthschools.com and the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapy assistants provide exercise instruction and physical therapy techniques to patients with injuries, disabilities, birth defects and other medical conditions. Although physical therapy assistants works under the supervision of the physical therapist, they become highly skilled through extensive educational training.
According to the BLS and Allalliedhealthschools.com, physical therapy assistants have to start out with a high school diploma. If an aspiring physical therapy assistant doesn't have a high school diploma or equivalent, she needs to take basic classes such as biology, English and chemistry to obtain one. Most physical therapy assistant programs continue these classes at a more advanced level. The programs include coursework such as algebra, anatomy, social science, humanities, computers, anatomy, physiology and psychology. These classes give the physical therapy assistant a cognitive understanding of body and mind function or provide the skills necessary to operate physical therapy equipment and establish treatment plans.
Clinical classes are classes that teach the physical therapy assistant the hands-on methods and techniques of the physical therapy field. They familiarize the physical therapy assistant with the work setting and the equipment he will use regularly for the job. According to the BLS and Seminole State College, these classes may include (but are not limited to) cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS), exercise physiology and kinesiology, basic patient care, physical therapy clinical practice labs and therapeutic exercise labs.
During clinical classes, physical therapy assistants get to apply their academic knowledge as they continue to learn about the physical therapy profession. However, at this point, because the physical therapist still is learning and has not yet passed a certification exam, the physical therapy assistant will work under the direction of a licensed physical therapist to complete a specified number of clinical hours.
Additional Medical Classes
In addition to academic and clinical classes, physical therapy assistants will take classes that contain physical therapy theory or medical information. Examples of these classes according to Seminole State College and the American Physical Therapy Association include medical terminology, research methods, human development, exercise physiology and kinesiology. Some of the medical courses a physical therapy assistant may take are applicable for all medical assistant jobs, so even if the physical therapist ends up switching to a different field, these courses provide a solid foundation for other health care careers.
2016 Salary Information for Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides
Physical therapist assistants and aides earned a median annual salary of $45,140 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physical therapist assistants and aides earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,950, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $53,510, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 140,300 people were employed in the U.S. as physical therapist assistants and aides.