7 Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant
You know you could be getting more out of your career, but you’re overwhelmed by all the options and aren’t sure where to start. You want to make sure you choose a job that allows you to put your natural talents to work in a rewarding environment. If you had to write a list of things you’re good at, listening to friends and being there for your kids would be at the top of the list. But do those skills really translate into a viable career?
Yes, they do! Your caring demeanor and natural empathy may make you a prime candidate for a career as a physical therapist assistant (PTA). Not only will this career allow your best characteristics to shine, but it also offers a healthy median annual salary— $58,040 in 2018—and potentially solid job prospects with employment of PTAs projected to grow 27 percent through 2028 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.*
So is becoming a physical therapist assistant right for you? See if you have what it takes—if you recognize yourself in the characteristics below, you may have found your dream career!
You should consider becoming a physical therapist assistant if ...
Not everyone has what it takes to succeed in the world of physical therapy. PTAs are tasked with helping patients regain their range of motion and manage pain due to injuries or chronic conditions—and it’s not always an easy feat! But if you see yourself in many of these characteristics, chances are you’re a good fit for this rewarding career.
1. You have top-notch communication skills
The foundation of a PTA’s job is working with others. They need to collaborate with physical therapists, aides and the patients themselves to ensure that all of a patient’s concerns are being addressed and that all team members are on the same page.
“It is important to be comfortable communicating with all types of people,” says Savina Kollmorgen, MPT of Bright Star PT. Communication skills go beyond speaking clearly. Solid writing skills also help you create clear reports that explain to your team what happened during a treatment session.
2. You radiate confidence
PTAs often need to push patients to their limits so they can gradually overcome pain and improve their range of motion. The best way to inspire someone else is to show complete confidence in their abilities.
“A PTA must be able to inspire his patient to do more than he thought he could,” says Masha Katz, MPT of Bright Star PT. By putting your confidence in your patients on display, they’ll believe in themselves and accomplish much more than they could have without your inspirational attitude.
3. You’re empathetic
Physical therapy patients are often experiencing extreme pain and emotional turmoil. They need someone on their team who not only wants to see them achieve their therapy goals but also understands and cares about them as a person.
"A physical therapist assistant must genuinely love people."
Understanding a patient’s needs is crucial, says Kollmorgen. But your empathetic nature is important too. A patient can tell the difference between a PTA who is on their side and one who’s just putting in hours until they can go home at the end of the day.
“A physical therapist assistant must genuinely love people,” says Katz.
4. You’re a good listener
Listening skills go hand-in-hand with being empathetic. After all, you can’t truly understand your patients if you’re not invested in what they’re saying! A successful PTA will be one who can set aside their own ideas and agenda and take the time to hear their patients out.
Kollmorgen points out that being a good listener is key to an in-depth understanding of a patient’s needs. Successful PTAs are “often able to build a trusting relationship with patients that can bring out information that’s crucial to best outcomes!” says Sandy Hilton, physical therapist at Entropy Physiotherapy and Wellness and clinical instructor to PTAs.
5. You have good judgment
Though PTAs work on a team with other physical therapists and aides, they’re responsible for making solid judgment calls throughout the day while working with patients and considering a patient’s overall treatment plan.
“PTAs are vital in keeping the PT up to date on daily progress and alerting the therapist when changes need to be made in the program,” says Hilton. PTAs also need to know their patients’ limits so they don’t push them too far or cause too much pain, according to Katz.
6. You can make quick decisions
"You must understand which approach is best for different kinds of patients."
As a physical therapist assistant, you’ll need to put that good judgment to use as you make spur-of-the-moment decisions while working with patients. PTAs are constantly assessing their patients’ pain levels and determining the next move that will be most beneficial to them. The ability to think on your feet is invaluable in situations like these.
“Sometimes the situation will require quick decision making,” says Kollmorgen. “You must understand which approach is best for different kinds of patients.”
7. You have an eye for noticing progress
Improvement doesn’t usually happen in a day. You’re always quick to notice little changes that add up to a big difference, whether it’s more control over the crayon in your preschooler’s scribbles or your new coworker getting through a day without asking any questions.
This ability is called “monitoring,” and it’s a crucial skill for PTAs. Being able to monitor changes in performance means you’re in the perfect position to make the right changes to a patient’s treatment plan and to help patients see how far they’ve come.
Do you have the makings of a physical therapist assistant?
If these characteristics resonate with you, it might be time to consider becoming a physical therapist assistant! You’ve got the natural qualities to be a success in this rewarding career. Now find out your next steps in How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed February, 2020] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.