There is a difference in the positions of a physical therapy assistant and a physical therapy aid. PT assistants provide hands on care to patients directly under the supervision of a physical therapist. PT aids work under the supervision of either a physical therapist or a physical therapy assistant. They help in ways to make the therapy more efficient. Patients include accident victims as well as individuals with chronic conditions such as lower-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, and cerebral palsy. They also treat patient with temporary disabilities from fractures, and head injuries,
Based on United States Department of Labor statistics for year ending 2008 there were approximately 60,000 physical therapist assistant jobs, At the same time physical therapy assistants held about 46,000 positions.*
Also in 2008, physical therapist assistants earned a median salary of $46,140 . Physical therapist aides earned a median annual salary of $23,760 during the same time period.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Seventy two percent of jobs were in offices of other health providers or in hospitals. The remaining 28% mostly worked in outpatient care center, home healthcare services,and nursing care facilities.
Job Description and Outlook
Physical therapist assistants work with physical therapists in providing treatments to patients. Under the direction and supervision of physical therapists they perform:
- Electrical stimulation
- Hot and cold packs
- Paraffin baths
Physical therapist aides help make therapy sessions productive, under the direct supervision of a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant by:
- Keeping the treatment area clean and organized
- Preparing for each patient’s therapy by making sure the appropriate supplies are on hand
- Make appointments
- Do routine paperwork
- Help patients get to or from the treatment area
Employment for both groups is expected to increase faster than other parts of the work force, according to the Department of Labor. However the Department of Labor cautions “opportunities for individuals interested in becoming physical therapist assistants are expected to be very good as with help from physical therapist assistants, physical therapists are able to manage more patients. However, physical therapy aides may face keen competition from the large pool of qualified individuals.”*
In addition to organic job growth, openings will occur as employees leave the industry permanently.
Facilities that appear to be promising for future employment include orthopedic care provider’s offices, skilled nursing facilities and acute care hospitals. Since physical therapists tend to “cluster” in densely populated areas job prospects could be very favorable in rural and less dense suburban areas.
According to the US bureau of Labor Statistics the job outlook for physical therapy assistants is superior. This job category is expected through 2018, to grow faster than any other jobs ( a growth rate of 35%) requiring post-secondary training or an associate degree.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
However, BLS foresees tough competition for jobs among aides, who need not possess the two-year associate’s degree.
Physical therapy professionals (therapists and assistants) are answering some of our nation’s most critical needs.
There are two reasons for this spurt in physical therapy treatments. One cause is the quickly aging population. This demographic shift to older patients will mean significant job growth.
The other is the extensive number of injured soldiers wounded in war in Iraq and Afghanistan. New prosthetics are developing at a rapid rate and physical therapy is the place a patient learns to use it, This is in addition to the ever-increasing age of the baby boomers who require more traditional care as well as members of the armed forces who didn’t lose a limb, but are injured in ways that affect their mobility.
While patients benefit from new technology those with careers in the profession can look forward to relatively excellent job opportunities even in a dragging economy.
Training and Education Requirements
Almost all states require that to work as Physical Therapy Assistant they have completed an accredited physical therapy assistant program and in many states be licensed. This a two-year program to prepare an individual for an associate degree. In addition a Physical Therapy Assistant must have clinical experience, first aid training and be certified in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation.
The credentials for a Physical Therapy Aid are much less stringent. They must have high school diploma and then are trained on the job.
For Physical Therapy Assistants:
- Licensure (in states requiring a license)
- Professional Certification
- Physical therapist assistant certification
- CPR and First Aid certification
For Physical Therapy Aids:
- High School Diploma
- Student Physical Therapist Assistant Association (SPTAA)
- National and/or state chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association
Physical Therapy Assistants earn twice as much salary as Physical Therapy Aids. The assistants job requires more education, and includes performing billable services and reducing the loan on a therapist, allowing him to treat more patients. While the physical therapy aid’s job is important to smooth operations, no work performed is billable and their direct patient care responsibilities are far less than an assistant’s, hence, the huge salary differential.
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