The U.S. health-care industry is growing in leaps and bounds these days. In fact, it's one of the few sectors of the economy that keeps reliably expanding, and employment for assistant physical therapists is projected to grow much faster than the nation's average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
If you want a career in health care that involves working with patients and you want to get started quickly, you may first want to consider a position as an aide in a hospital or physical therapy treatment center. Aides often learn skills while they're on the job and working toward becoming an assistant or a therapist. An assistant physical therapist typically has an associate degree, and most states require licensing for assistants.
What does an assistant physical therapist do?
An assistant physical therapist provides care to patients. They provide exercise instruction under the therapist's guidance. Therapeutic methods that the assistant administers include electrical stimulation, mechanical traction, ultrasound, massage, and gait and balance training. In addition, physical therapist assistants record patients' responses to treatment and are expected to report the outcome of a patient's treatment to the physical therapist.
What qualifications are required?
Physical therapy aides typically have a high school diploma. Otherwise, they are trained on the job, and most employers provide clinical on-the-job training. Your job prospects for being hired as an aide are better if you are in an associate degree program to become an assistant physical therapist.
In most states, assistant physical therapists are required by law to hold an associate degree. The American Physical Therapy Association's Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education accredits postsecondary assistant physical therapy programs, according to the BLS. In 2009, there were 223 accredited programs nationwide. Programs include academic coursework in algebra, English, anatomy and physiology, and psychology. Hands-on clinical work includes certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other first aid, with field experience at treatment centers.
How much does an assistant physical therapist earn?
Median annual wages of physical therapist assistants were $46,140 in May 2008, the BLS reports. The middle 50% earned between $37,170 and $54,900 while the lowest 10% earned less than $28,580 and the highest 10% earned more than $63,830. The industries employing the largest numbers of physical therapist assistants in May 2008 were home health care services, nursing care facilities, hospitals, and offices of doctors and other health practitioners (See complete assistant physical therapist salary overview.)
Employment of physical therapist assistants and aides is expected to grow by 35% from 2008 through 2018, the BLS reports. Changes to restrictions on reimbursement for physical therapy services by third-party payers will increase patient access to services, which will increase demand. The growing population requiring therapy partly reflects the aging U.S. population.
"The elderly population is particularly vulnerable to chronic and debilitating conditions that require therapeutic services," the BLS states in its "Occupational Outlook Handbook." "These patients often need additional assistance in their treatment, making the roles of assistants and aides vital. In addition, the large baby-boom generation is entering the prime age for heart attacks and strokes, further increasing the demand for cardiac and physical rehabilitation."