A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist Assistant

A physical therapy assistant, or PTA, is a crucial member of the physical therapy team. This is a great career choice for anyone interested in healthcare who either does not want to or cannot afford the time and money to spend years in college.

It takes just a two-year degree to train to become a PTA. Demand for these qualified professionals is high across the U.S. But before you take the plunge and apply to a PTA program, make sure you understand just what it takes to work as a physical therapist assistant.

PTAs work with Physical Therapists

As a PTA, you can expect to work under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. PTAs have a good amount of autonomy and do much of their work independently, but they do have to be directed by a physical therapist. The PT creates a plan for patients, and the PTA helps put it into action. PTAs guide patients through the prescribed exercises, observe and evaluate their progress, keep records and report back to the physical therapist for any changes to the plan.

The Work Day of a PTA

Most PTAs work in the offices of therapists. These are usually private practices that are stand-alone or affiliated with hospitals and surgery centers. PTAs may also work in hospitals, nursing homes, or in patient homes as part of a home healthcare team. Regardless of the setting, the typical day is very similar:

  • As a PTA, you will begin your day reviewing the schedule. You’ll see which patients you’ll be treating for the day and have a chance to go over the treatment plans developed by the PT.
  • Your work with patients starts with the first appointment of the day. Typical hours for physical therapy are between 8 am and 5 pm, but there can be some variations.
  • Most of the day will be spent helping patients do their prescribed exercises. This may be hands-off for some, but for other patients you will need to help them move. Expect to spend much of your time standing, walking, lifting and generally being physically active.
  • During and at the end of patient sessions, you will also be providing education. You’ll talk to patients and their families about the exercises and why you are doing them. You may also explain what the PT wants them to do at home.
  • At the end of the day as a PTA, you will probably spend some time updating patient records, recording the observations you made and any notes on improvements or difficulties. You will also talk to the PT to communicate any concerns or changes you think need to be made to patient plans.

Demands and Responsibilities of Being a PTA

The bulk of your day working as a PTA is spent actually working with patients. This is a big draw for most people looking for a career that is meaningful and that makes a real impact on people. However, you should keep in mind that it means this job is physically demanding. You will need to be able to lift a fair amount of weight and generally be active for an eight-hour day.

There is also a big responsibility that comes with this career. While the PT has a greater responsibility, for diagnosing patients and planning treatments, the PTA carries out much of the treatment. It is your work with patients that will truly help them get well and recover from an injury or surgery.

Working as a PTA is a serious responsibility, but if you are compassionate and enjoy working with people it can be a wonderful career.