Where Do Physical Therapist Assistants Work? 6 Settings that Might Surprise You
You’ve always wanted a job that focuses on helping people. With the booming availability in the healthcare sector these days, there are more than just a few options for you to consider. If the idea of nursing and medical care feels a little too, well, medical for you, and teaching or coaching hasn’t felt quite right either, rest assured—there are other career paths you can follow.
The role of a physical therapy assistant (PTA) might be completely new to you, but it could also be exactly what you’re seeking. With an emphasis on holistic methods, PTAs use exercise, movement and a detailed understanding of the human body to help patients reduce pain and gain mobility. PTAs get to teach patients how to properly care for their body and heal from a particular ailment and oftentimes, they do many of the exercises with the patient.
And the outlook in this industry couldn’t be brighter. Jobs for PTAs are expected to climb 40 percent through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is more than five times faster than the average growth rate of 7 percent.
But where do physical therapist assistants actually work? It turns out these professionals are employed in a variety of environments. Keep reading to discover the diverse options.
6 settings you’ll find physical therapist assistants working
1. Physical and occupational therapy offices
Known as outpatient clinics, this is perhaps one of the more popular routes for physical therapists and PTAs alike. Many physical and occupational therapy offices are private practices that specialize specifically in physical therapy or a certain kind of physical therapy. Doctors will often refer patients to a specific physical therapy clinic if they think that a more focused rehabilitation program is necessary. These clinics are stocked with all of the exercise, testing and therapy equipment required to help patients heal quickly and safely.
PTAs will assist physical therapists in helping patients with particular movements or exercises. Many physical therapy movements require heavy lifting and adjusting of a patient, so PTAs also aid in assisting physical therapists with elevating and hoisting patients in an effort to limit the risk of injury.
“An outpatient setting like this has the most regimented schedule of physical therapy environments,” explains Tonya Olson, a PTA clinical education coordinator for the Rasmussen College Physical Therapy Assistant Program. “The environment itself tends to be more fast-paced. You need to be adaptable because, as a PTA, you might be working with a variety different physical therapists and a mixed bag of patients.”
2. Hospitals and doctors’ offices
Physical therapy options are a popular route for healing, and hospitals are eager to staff their physical therapy environments. Many hospitals and doctors’ offices staff their own physical therapists and physical therapist assistants to help patients reintegrate normal movements into daily life after certain procedures or surgeries.
Within a hospital setting, a PTA will assist patients as they recover from an illness, accident, surgery or trauma. The objective is to help patients in rehabilitation until they are well enough to be discharged safely.
“In a hospital, the PTA tends to have a little more independence,” Olson says. “The patients are sicker and more acute in their illnesses, so the interventions are going to be simpler: helping them out of bed or helping them move from the bed to the toilet. You’ll also be working closely with the nursing staff and oftentimes consulting with the physical therapist.”
3. Nursing homes or extended care facilities
In a nursing home setting, most of those admitted are long-term patients. PTAs help provide rehabilitation and other services to residents and typically care for elderly tenants. As the baby boomer population ages, more nursing homes and extended care facilities will be in need of PTAs to aid in therapy programs and assist patients.
“Skilled nursing home facilities require a significant amount of autonomy for a PTA,” Olson says. “You need to be independent thinking, as PTAs are the workhorses of the facility and often coordinate with certified nursing assistants (CNAs).”
She adds that this setting allows PTAs to work within the fuller scope of their practice because they are much more independent. In an extended care facility, it’s general practice that the physical therapist needs to be physically on site but not necessarily interacting with the PTA.
4. Home healthcare services
While the majority of residents in home healthcare settings are elderly, there are also pediatric patients with developmental disabilities or other issues, as well as other types of patients who are recovering from an injury or illness. As a PTA providing home healthcare services, your work environment is the patient’s own residence. This kind of setting also includes group homes, residential facilities or certain types of hospice locations.
This is the setting in which PTAs experience the most independence, according to Olson. “You’re driving on your own, and you’re really setting your own schedule,” she explains. “You have the freedom to arrange your day according to what works best for you, and the PT is just a phone call away.”
The great thing about this type of setting is that it changes every day. You’ll be assisting patients in the comfort of their own homes and you’ll get some exciting variety within your workday.
If you like working with kids and teens, you’ll be happy to hear that many schools hire on-site physical therapy assistants to provide care in an educational setting.
PTAs in this environment often may work with children with special needs, including autism, developmental delay and neurologic injury, among other conditions, according to Boguslawa Badon, a licensed physical therapist and owner of Farmington Valley Physical Therapy. “Physical therapy assistants may also work with sports teams to continue their rehab programs at school after they’ve had their PT evaluation, rather than having them travel to the clinic and miss time from school or practice,” Badon adds.
Whether a student gets injured during gym class or you’re working with an athletic team to educate them on preventing injuries, there are a good variety of job duties for PTAs who work in schools.
6. Sports facilities and fitness centers
The focus is on wellness when PTAs work in a sports facility or fitness center. There are a variety of sports-related injuries that PTAs can help athletes overcome. Physical therapy support is also often provided to help prevent such injuries and illnesses from occurring in the first place.
“Some [fitness centers] will go as far as pre-rehabilitation, or pre-hab for short, to optimize a client’s range of motion or strength before they undergo a procedure or surgery,” Badon says. “Many times clients are paying for these services out of pocket rather than going through their insurance companies.”
Promoting a healthy lifestyle is a key goal for PTAs in fitness centers, as opposed to treating a problem after the fact. Whether you work in a sports training facility, a privately owned fitness center or a franchise fitness center, if you love athletics and working out, this might be a great fit for your future as a PTA.
An array of options
So where do physical therapist assistants work? Now you know that there’s not a single setting. Whether you’re looking to work in more of a medical setting, a fitness setting or a school setting, there’s a place for you in the growing field of physical therapy.
If you’re intrigued by the options you’ve read about above, learn more about what you’d need to do to find employment in one of these environments. Check out our article, How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant (and Why You Shouldn’t Hesitate!)