What They Don't Tell You in the Physical Therapist Assistant Job Description

female physical therapist helping patient with rehab

You’ve always considered capitalizing on your caring nature by pursuing a career in the healthcare field. And truth be told, there’s no better time than now to pursue that professional passion. As the baby boomers enter their golden years, retirement and advanced age will increase the need for new healthcare professionals.

PTA jobs are projected to increase 31 percent through 2026.

Healthcare careers in general are on the rise, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that’s growing faster than physical therapist assistants (PTAs). In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for PTAs will increase 31 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is more than four times faster than the average rate of all occupations.

That eye-opening number is enough to catch most people’s attention. Add to that the above average earning potential and it’s no wonder you’re considering this career. But there’s more to a career than the job openings and compensation.

Before deciding to pursue this path, you need to be confident that it’ll be a good fit for you. There’s only so much you can learn from the physical therapist assistant job description. So let us give you a closer look at the role of a PTA to help you understand if it’s the right fit for you.

What are some of the common duties found in a physical therapist job description?

The job description of a physical therapist assistant is fairly straightforward. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapist assistants work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists to help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.

To do this, PTAs work directly with patients, helping them recover through exercises, stretching, massage or through the use of specialized equipment. Another important aspect of a physical therapist assistant’s role is observing patients before, during and after therapy, then reporting what they find to their physical therapist supervisors. PTAs also educate and inform patients and their families about next steps after treatment.

What you may not find in a physical therapist job description

However, like most other jobs, working as a physical therapist assistant comes with nuances that may extend beyond what you’d see in a job description. Before you decide to pursue a career in this field, it is helpful to understand what a typical day on the job looks like, some of the unexpected job duties and what it really takes to succeed. Here are some helpful insights on what it takes to be a great PTA.

Interpersonal skills are a must for PTAs

Though working as a PTA requires plenty of physical activity, you can expect to flex your interpersonal skills regularly.

“This job requires excellent personal boundaries—knowing when to say yes, and how to say no. You need a lot of good, solid social and people skills,” says former physical therapist assistant Becky Blanton. “You have to be a positive person, because your patients often aren’t.”

People undergoing physical therapy can be going through a tough time emotionally—limited mobility and recovering from injury is taxing. Your people skills will be key for bringing out their best effort.

There’s plenty of work that isn’t direct patient care

Ultimately, a physical therapist assistant’s job is about supporting the physical therapist with whom they work. This means physical therapist assistants and aides often do tasks that are indirectly related to patient care, such as cleaning and setting up the treatment area, moving patients and performing clerical work like documenting patient progress and updating records.

There are limitations to what you can share with your patients as a PTA

Physical therapists rely on their PTAs to implement treatment plans for their patients; however, their roles are very different. Blanton says one of the most difficult parts of working as a PTA was not always being able to directly address the medical concerns or questions patients had. Because assistants are not physicians, they should avoid directly addressing patient questions or concerns beyond their scope of work—that means asking for the input of an overseeing physical therapist.

Physical therapist assistants treat the whole person

Blanton says helping a patient recover takes more than just physical movement. “Being a physical therapist assistant means you get to know, work with and treat the whole person. They are often depressed because of their injury or surgery—especially if the damage is permanent, as with amputations,” Blanton says.

For this reason, knowledge of psychology and counseling can be very helpful in a physical therapist assistant’s job. Another element of the PTA job is supporting patients through personal difficulties.

“You have to be able to deal with loss, trauma and grief because a lot of people you work with are in pain or have lost something,” Blanton says.

Because pain is a large reason for patient treatment, it is common for physical therapist assistants to work with those struggling with addiction—which means you’ll need a sensitivity to and awareness of potential issues that may be hampering their recovery.

Would you make a great physical therapist assistant?

Now that you’ve got a little insight into what is—and isn’t—in a physical therapist assistant job description, you might be feeling like you’d be a good fit for this fast-growing healthcare role. Learn more about if you have some of the common traits that successful PTAs share in our article, “7 Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant.”

About the author

Ashley Abramson

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She also works as a copywriter for a creative agency and edits an online magazine where she enjoys connecting with others through the written word.

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