How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant & Aide
The Definitive Career Guide


Avg. Salary
$48,630

Education Duration
2-4 Years

Job Outlook
29%

Do you enjoy working with other people, getting them in to move their bodies, and holistically heal through physical manipulation of their muscles?

It may sound complicated, but the careers of a Physical Therapist Assistant and Physical Therapist Aide are highly necessary for the medical field and often overlooked.

In this career, you will work with patients who have some sort of injury, and with physical therapy, the patient can learn to use that muscle or group of muscles again.

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides are considered the backbone of the physical therapy community.

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What is a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide?

There are many things that a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide must do throughout the day on the job.

Not only is office work involved in this career but helping patients in the exam room is part of the job as well.

As a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide, you will work with others in a physical therapy team, such as the Physical Therapist and Rehabilitation team, to help patients get back to normal.

In this job, you’ll spend a lot of time with patients ensuring their bodies are working as they should.

Duties

A Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide will likely have several tasks to do at once.

There could be a patient at the front desk, and one in the exam room.

But a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide will need to find time to help both.

Some of the other tasks that are the responsibility of Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides include:

  • Observing and assessing patients
  • Teaching patients and families about physical therapy procedures
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Planning treatment for patients
  • Visiting patients in their homes
  • Manually manipulating patients bodies

Salary

With a career as a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide, you can expect to make a salary close to $50,000 a year on average.

This career will boast quite the salary for those who have a lot of experience and education.

Physical Therapist Assistants and Physical Therapists Aides at the top of their career can make close to $80,000 a year.

However, the salary for new Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides is closer to $23,000 to begin.

Having credentials, specializations, and hands-on knowledge of the field will grant Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides more opportunities for career and salary growth.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $48,630

$23K
$29K
$48K
$63K
$77K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Annual Salary by State

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is , where the average salary is $0.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

* Salary information based on May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, OCC Code 31-2020, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide

Step 1 Earn an Associates Degree

Formal Education is a requirement for Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, and an Associates degree is the best program to enter.

This is because more and more medical teams are requiring Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides to have at least an Associates degree before they get hired.

Having a degree shows employers that you are competent in the field and that you have the experience to do the job.

In the average Physical Therapist Assistant Associates degree program, you can find courses such as:

  • Principles of Musculoskeletal
  • Physical Therapy Practices
  • Physical Therapy Practice for Special Populations
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Evidence-based Practices

You should also expect to have clinical labs and an externship in most Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide programs.

There are some Physical Therapist Aide programs online and offered in trade schools that provide entry-level education that can take up to 18 months.

Step 2 Become Licensed

After you have earned a degree or a certificate, most Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides are required to become licensed in the state they want to work in.

There are only two states that do not require their Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides to have licensure, and those states are Hawaii and California.

All other prospective Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides must pass the National Physical Therapy exam.

The National Physical Therapy exam covers many topics and can be taken online or in person.

Some of the areas to study for this exam are:

  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Lymphatic System
  • System Interactions
  • Neuromuscular System
  • Equipment, Devices, and Technologies
  • Therapeutic Modalities
  • Safety and Protection

Once you pass this exam, you will be a licensed Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide.

Students can retake the test three times before they will need to wait a year to reapply.

The cost of the exam is $100.

Step 3 Gain Experience

Having experience in physical therapy is the best way to get better in this career.

Most Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides will have had some experience working with clients through their education program.

This provides hands-on knowledge, but there are other ways to become a master in the field of physical therapy, including:

  • Volunteering at rehab centers
  • Working as a home health aide
  • Attending seminars
  • Shadow senior Physical Therapists Assistants
  • Shadow Physical Therapists

There are careers beyond working as a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide, and you will need to have on the job knowledge to accept most of them.

This is a great way to get your head start in the medical field.

Step 4 Continue Your Education

While you are exploring your career as a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide, you may realize that there is a certain specialization that you lean toward.

This could be one of the following niches:

  • People with disabilities
  • The elderly
  • Athletes
  • Pediatrics

If you have found that you enjoy working with one set of patients over another, then you can find many educational programs and certification programs to complement that niche.

Some Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides earn a Bachelor’s degree and go on to work in many other areas of the medical field.

Though it’s possible to earn a salary with a broad career as a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide, finding a niche will allow for larger wages and promotions.


Education

Becoming educated as a Physical Therapist Assistant and Physical Therapist Aide is crucial to success.

Most Physical Therapist Assistants earn an Associate’s degree or work through a one-year program to earn a certificate.

An Associate’s degree can take 2 years or more, depending on if the student is full-time or part-time.

There are many Associate’s degree programs for aspiring Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, and most of them will require clinical labs and an externship in order to graduate.

You can expect to learn a lot about math and science in a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide program.

The other courses that you can find in this type of program include:

  • Biomechanics
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Clinical Pathology
  • Ethics and Values in Medical Care
  • Communications
  • Behavioral Science

With classroom learning comes clinical labs, as well as possible externships.

These externships can be through the program or through a local hospital or physical therapist’s office.

The important factor to remember is that you must get permission before assuming you will get credit for your externship.

Now, if you are looking to work as a Physical Therapist Aide, you may not need to earn any formal education beyond a high school diploma.

Some of the types of tasks you can expect to have with a career as a Physical Therapist Aide include:

  • Sanitizing and cleaning after patients
  • Clerical and administrative responsibilities

Most Physical Therapist Aides will receive on the job training and education, so a degree isn’t necessary.

For those who earn an Associate’s degree, it’s likely you will find a job as a Physical Therapist Assistant, which is a step up from a Physical Therapist Aide.

If you are the type of person who wants to earn an education or your employer requires that you gain a certificate as a Physical Therapist Aide, there are some programs online and on campuses that take about one year to complete.

In a Physical Therapist Aide program, you will take courses that may include:

  • Medical Terminology
  • Physical and Occupational Therapy
  • Exercise and Mobility Training

Often, a Physical Therapist Aide certificate program will offer some training through on the job experience and clinical lab work.

Video About The Career


Licensing and Certification

Most states in the United States require that Physical Therapists Assistants have a license in order to work.

There are some regulations for Physical Therapist Aides, but it varies by state and location.

In order to be eligible for licensure as a Physical Therapist Assistant, you will need to have an Associate’s degree from an accredited program.

The National Physical Therapy Examination, given by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, is a computer-based exam that will allow you to become a licensed and registered Physical Therapist Assistant.

It’s possible to take this exam online, as well as through testing centers across the country.

There are specific times for these exams, so contact your local Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs for more information.

The National Physical Therapy Assistant Exam has several sections, including areas on:

  • Body systems such as:
    • Cardiovascular
    • Musculoskeletal
    • Neuromuscular
    • Metabolic
    • Gastrointestinal
    • Lymphatic
  • Equipment and devices
  • Therapeutic modalities
  • Professional responsibilities
  • Research and evidence-based practices

The state in which you will work determines the application fee as well as when you can take the exam.

If your employer requires that you earn a certification as a Physical Therapist Aide, one from the American Medical Certification Association will work great.

In order to be eligible for the American Medical Certification Association Physical Therapist Aide certification, you will need to:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have graduated from a training program or
  • Have a minimum of one-year experience or

This certification can be earned by taking a 100-question exam, which can take around two hours to complete.

This exam will cover a variety of areas, including subjects like:

  • Patient prep and positioning
  • Law and ethics
  • Administrative duties
  • Patient care
  • Safety and infection control

Earning this certification will demonstrate that you are competent in your career and that employers can trust you to do your job correctly.

Both the licensure for a Physical Therapist Assistant and the certification for a Physical Therapist Aide must be reapplied every two years to ensure validity.

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

It shouldn’t take too long to become a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide.

However, if you are looking to become certified, it can take a couple of years of hands-on knowledge to apply.

Licensure to become a Physical Therapist Assistant requires at least an Associates degree to apply, which takes around two years to finish.

The Physical Therapist Aide certification requires at least one year of experience in the field.

It can take anywhere from 1 to 2 years to have the experience to become certified as a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide.


Job Outlook

Job opportunities for Physical Therapists Assistants will likely grow around 33 percent over the next ten years.

For Physical Therapist Aides, the growth is not as much, but still a lot at 21 percent.

Both careers will likely be a major necessity in the future, due to the aging baby boomer population and the need for physical therapy.

Many facilities are utilizing Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides to help patients instead of employing Physical Therapists.

Some of the best places to find a career as a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide are:

  • Nursing homes
  • Hospitals
  • Home healthcare services
  • Outpatient facilities

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides working in larger communities will likely find higher career prospects.

Earning higher education and credentials in this field can also provide promotions and job openings.

Employment Growth Projection: 29%

149,300
2018
192,300
2028

That's a higher than average projected growth of 43,000


Should You Become a Physical Therapist Assistant or Physical Therapist Aide?

Overall Satisfaction: Medium

Overall Satisfaction

Working as a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide can be a rewarding, yet challenging career.

There isn’t much upward mobility in this career without further education, but the home/work-life balance is good for this job.

Expect to have more flexibility in your schedule with this career more than others in the medical field.

Most Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides work a typical 9-5 workweek.

This career is best for those who like working in fast-paced jobs with many things to do at once.

Average Salary: High

Average Salary

Having a career as a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide means that you will make about $48,000 a year on average.

Those who are just beginning their career as a Physical Therapist Assistant or Physical Therapist Aide can expect to make closer to $23,000.

With many years of experience and certification, a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide can make almost $80,000 in some areas.

Working in larger populations with bigger hospitals or medical facilities will likely provide higher wages.

Job Growth Outlook: High

Job Growth Outlook

For those looking to become a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide, finding job opportunities over the next several years should become easier.

The career of a Physical Therapist Assistant will grow around 33 percent over the next decade, which is much faster than most careers.

For Physical Therapist Aides, the career will grow over 20 percent, which is also a lot more than many other careers.

There will likely be a higher demand for physical therapy in the coming years, which would explain the sudden increase in career opportunities.

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

Education Duration

Most employers and states require that Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides have at least a two-year degree in order to gain employment.

An Associate’s degree can be earned at local community colleges, universities, and even online.

When pursuing an online program, make sure that it is accredited with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Association.

It’s also important to make sure that clinical labs and externships get done in person to obtain hands-on experience.

Most education programs take around two years to finish, however for those interested in a Bachelor’s degree, that can take another 2 to four years.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

In order to work as a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide, you should have knowledge of the medical field, and be willing to help others.

Other skills to gain before becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant or Physical Therapist Aide are:

  • Communication skills
  • Ability to work as a team
  • Listening skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Assertiveness
  • Multitasking skills
  • Physical stamina
  • Mental strength
  • Manual dexterity
  • Computer skills
  • Time management skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Math and science knowledge
  • Interpersonal skills


Frequently Asked Questions

Q.

How much does a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide make?

On average as a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide, you can take home around $48,000 a year in salary.

When you are just starting your career as a Physical Therapist or Aide, you will likely find wages closer to $25,000 to begin.

However, after several years of experience and certifications, a Physical Therapist Assistant and a Physical Therapist Aide can make more money.

Most Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides at the top of their career will make close to $80,000 a year.

Q.

How long does it take to become a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide?

To gain the proper education for this career, you will need to at least earn an Associate’s degree in most states.

This requirement is due to the seriousness of the career since you will be working to help people in a medical setting.

There are some programs that can be done online or at trade schools that take less than two years, but be wary of ones that don’t provide clinical labs or externships.

These may not be accredited, and also may not provide the right education needed to work as a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide.

Q.

What does a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide do?

There are many duties that a Physical Therapist Assistant and a Physical Therapist Aide must do throughout the workday.

Some of the types of things that you can expect to do in this career include:

  • Assessing patients
  • Taking vitals
  • Assisting patients with manipulating their bodies
  • Speaking with Physical Therapists and other medical team members
  • Entering information into the database

A lot of the day will consist of talking with patients and trying to determine the best course of action for their treatment.

Q.

What is the demand for Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides?

There will likely always be a need for this career, especially with the increase in physical therapy as a treatment plan for illness and injury.

Over the next decade, this career will grow about 29 percent, which is a lot more than many other careers in the medical field.

More people are becoming interested in physical therapy rather than medications in order to heal from injury and illnesses, hence the necessity for more Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides.

Also, the responsibilities of a Physical Therapist Assistant and a Physical Therapist Aide will continue to grow as it is easier to employ them over Physical Therapists.

Q.

How much does it cost to become a Physical Therapist Assistant and Aide?

Chances are that if you are planning to work as a Physical Therapist Assistant or a Physical Therapist Aide, you will need to earn an Associate’s degree.

Most Associates degrees in the United States can be earned at community colleges or universities across the country and online.

The average Associate’s degree ranges from around $10,000 to $15,000 depending on the type of degree program as well as where you earn the degree.

For those interested in earning a Bachelor’s degree, these can be gained for around $35,000.


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