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13 Pros and Cons of Being a Physical Therapist Assistant


Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

If you are anything like me, then the idea of physically assisting a health professional in their work is both intriguing and terrifying. A physical therapist assistant is an exciting career choice with both pros and cons that should be considered before making any decisions. Do you know what are the pros and cons of being a physical therapist assistant?

As a physical therapist assistant, you are the vital link between the patient and the physical therapist. You help keep patients comfortable and safe while undergoing treatment, and you play an essential role in their rehabilitation, but is this career right for you? So, if you are on the fence about becoming a physical therapist assistant (PTA), read on for my take on the top 13 pros and cons of being a physical therapist assistant.


What Does A Physical Therapist Assistant Do?


A physical therapy assistant (PTA) works under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses to regain movement and manage any pain they may have by providing treatments. These treatments include, but are not limited to stretching, massage, exercise, heat/ice packs, and electrical stimulation. A physical therapist assistant may also teach patients how to use specific equipment, such as braces or wheelchairs.

Physical therapists (PTs), not PTA's, determine the patient's actual treatment for their condition, that is outside the scope of practice for a physical therapist assistant. Physical therapy assistants will document the patient's progress and report to the physical therapist. They must be able to work closely with people who have a wide range of problems and assist them in performing routine tasks.


Where Does A Physical Therapist Assistant Work?


You will find physical therapist assistants working in many different settings throughout the healthcare system. They are commonly employed by hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, home health agencies, the school system, and private practices. In a hospital setting, you will see the physical therapist assistant working with patients in the emergency department, the orthopedic ward, and often on an acute rehabilitation floor. You may find them working with children in a pediatric ward or helping stroke victims relearn essential functions through exercise. The possibilities are endless and so varied.

The best places to find PTAs employed are those that offer long-term care, such as nursing homes and outpatient facilities. By working in the long-term care setting, PTA's are given more opportunities to work with patients suffering from chronic conditions. Individuals suffering from arthritis or osteoporosis will need regular treatments throughout their lifetime, which allows for more ample employment opportunities.

Offices specializing in sports medicine are also another great place to find PTA jobs. By working in sports medicine, physical therapist assistants can work with athletes who have suffered from injuries or those suffering from arthritis. Finally, hospitals offer even more employment opportunities. Patients need to be physically worked on just about every day, so the hours are good, and the jobs are plentiful.


What Is A Typical Physical Therapist Assistant Work Schedule Like?


As a physical therapist, you can expect to work various hours, including some that may be outside the traditional 9 to 5 schedule. For example, you might have to work evenings or weekends depending on your employer's needs and preferences. A typical workday for a physical therapist assistant is usually more structured compared with other career fields. A PTA may have specific times when they need to be working with patients. This will depend mainly on the nature of the physical therapist assistant position and the work setting.

Most physical therapist assistants work a full-time schedule. This usually means that you will have to work at least 40 hours a week and sometimes more depending on your employer's and patient’s needs. You might have opportunities to work overtime as needed, perhaps on nights or weekends.

Your employer may also have different requirements on the type of hours that you need to be flexible with. If you are working at a public school district, then your work hours would most likely revolve around the school calendar, so having some leeway in terms of your work hours is helpful if not necessary.


How Much Does A Physical Therapist Assistant Make?


As a physical therapist assistant, you will find that there is a wide range of variations in your salary based on your level of experience. The entry-level salary for this profession is around $33,840 a year, which will break down to $16.27 an hour. Once you get some experience under your belt, you will increase your salary to $28.74 an hour or $59,770 a year. Now, if you have gained top-level expertise, you will undoubtedly be rewarded for it. Top-level experience in this career will have you earning $39.65 an hour or $82,470 a year. The average salary for a physical therapist assistant is $28.58 or $59,440 a year.

Level of ExperienceHourlyAnnual
Entry-Level$16.27$33,840
Mid-Level$28.74$59,770
Top-Level$39.65$82,470
Average Salary$28.58$59,440
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)


Job Outlook For A Physical Therapist Assistant


Now, let's take a look at the job outlook for a physical therapist assistant. In 2020 there were 93,800 physical therapy assistant jobs. This number is projected to grow by 35.29% or 33,100 by 2030. This means that the number of jobs in 2030 will grow to 126,900. This number includes the new and replacement physical therapist assistant jobs.

Employment
in 2020
Projected
Employment
in 2030
New Employment
Growth (2020-2030)
Annual Job Openings
(New + Replacement)
Number %
93,800126,90033,10035.29%16,400
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)


TOP CONS OF BEING A PHYSICAL THERAPIST ASSISTANT

(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being a Physical Therapist Assistant.)

1. You may need to meet specific criteria before being accepted into a physical therapy assistant program.

One of the disadvantages of being a physical therapist assistant is that not everyone can do it. There are a lot of qualifications that you will have to meet before you can go to school and become a physical therapist assistant. You must meet the criteria before being accepted into a program to become a physical therapist assistant: You must have a high school diploma or equivalent, and you must take the ACT or SAT.

Some programs have a state-mandated entrance exam – for example, certain schools in Alabama do require that you to take the COMPASS assessment exam to be considered for admission. Some schools will require that you pass the Wonderlic GAIN test. You may also need to pass a background check and a drug test. You must also have a current CPR certification. You can take a CPR course through the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross.

2. You will need to earn an associate's degree.

One of the downsides to being a physical therapist assistant is that you need to earn an associate's degree. That is right, for this career path, it is not enough to merely graduate from high school and be able to work with people and do physical therapy tasks. Nope! You will need to get a piece of paper that says you know something about something. When deciding on a physical therapist assistant career, you must ensure that the program you plan on attending is accredited. This sounds like a simple check in the box, but it is very important!

3. You may need to take out student loans.

One of the cons of being a physical therapist assistant is the fact that you may have to take out loans in order to pay for school. The average cost for tuition for a physical therapist assistant program varies wildly across regions.

Depending on the program, a physical therapy assistant program can cost you anywhere from $2,500 to about $20,000. The significant cost difference also occurs because some programs are offered by community institutions and some by private institutions. Many people do not have this type of money lying around, so most students need to take out loans. Taking out student loans may be your only option. Student loans can end up putting you in a reasonable amount of debt. Think about all the money you will owe back and with interest. Do you want to get yourself into this kind of debt?

4. You will need to earn a license.

As a physical therapist assistant, you will need to earn a license to practice. In order to earn a physical therapy assistant license, each state will require you to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE).

The NPTE is developed and administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. You will not be permitted to work until you pass this exam. Once you have passed the NPTE, you will need to obtain your state license through your state's physical therapy board. The NPTE consists of 225 questions that you will need to complete in a seven-and-a-half-hour time frame. Each question must be answered within one minute, and incorrect answers cannot be changed once submitted. This means that if you do not know the answer, you should guess because there is no penalty for an incorrect answer.

Each state determines its own licensing requirements, which are usually dependent on the year in which you graduated from physical therapist assistant school. Each state has different fees for applying for a physical therapist assistant license, continuing education requirements, and renewal fees.

5. Your license is not reciprocated by other states.

One of the biggest disadvantages of being a physical therapist assistant is the fact that your license is not reciprocated in other states. That means you will have to undergo a whole new license process, which takes several months and costs a lot of money. Remember, you cannot work till you get that license.

6. You may need to earn certification to stay competitive.

In the world of physical therapy, those who pursue a career as a physical therapist assistant often invest in earning certification as a means to stay at the top of their field. Entering an ever-changing profession with daily advancements, it is common for those employed within the field of physical therapy to have certifications that support their expertise. Many times, this is achieved by earning a certification offered through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Remember that earning certification will cost you even more time and money. You may even be passed up for job opportunities if you do not have one.

7. It is a physically demanding career.

A job as a physical therapist assistant is one of the most physically demanding careers on average. Having such a physically demanding career can put you at risk for injury. Once you are injured, it will cause you to be unable to work and also require medical attention. Being injured can cost quite a lot of money if it is not considered a workplace injury. Suppose your injuries result in permanent damage that prevents you from continuing your career, in that case, this can destroy your life financially.

8. You may encounter complex patients.

As a physical therapist assistant, you will find that, at times, you will encounter the dreaded difficulty of working with the difficult patient. These patients can be pretty rude and sometimes cruel. Dealing with these types of patients day in and day out will undoubtedly take a toll on you. These patients can be frustrating, and you might feel like giving up.

9. You have exposure to pathogens.

One of the top disadvantages of being a physical therapist assistant is being exposed to pathogens. Some of these pathogens can be harmful and make you sick, as well as make your family sick if you bring these pathogens home. These pathogens could also have a negative effect on those around you at work, patients, clients, and other colleagues.

10. You may have to work evenings to accommodate your patients.

As a physical therapist assistant, you may have to work in the evenings. You may find that working evenings is the only way to see your clients who work during the day. Evening work can be challenging. Evening work can leave you feeling tired and missing out on necessary time with your family and friends. So, if you are thinking about becoming a physical therapist assistant, well, it is essential to consider whether you're willing to work in the evenings.

11. You may experience emotional stress

When you weigh the pros and cons of being a physical therapist assistant, you may want to think about the emotional stress being a physical therapist assistant can have on you. Physical therapists assistants work with very ill patients from time to time, and some of these patients will often pass away due to their illnesses or injury. This reality is never an easy matter for a physical therapist assistant to experience. The emotional stress you may feel can range from sadness to anger. Physical therapist assistants will often take their patient's death very hard, which could affect their work life and personal life.

12. You have a big responsibility

Another one of the cons of being a physical therapist assistant to take into consideration is the amount of responsibility you have. You are responsible for the physical well-being of your patients. This includes, but is not limited to, events such as patient falls and injuries. If a patient falls or gets injured on your watch, then it is your responsibility to make sure that they are seen by medical staff immediately. You may be liable if you do not take immediate action.

13. If you do not have good people skills, you will not excel

As a physical therapist assistant, you will need to have good people skills. If you are not easy to get along with, you will not excel at this job. You do not have to be everyone's best friend, but your patients must trust you and feel comfortable with you.

Good people skills do not stop with patients. It is imperative to get along well with your coworkers and supervisors as well. Working in a team environment means that you will have to work hard to ensure all team members are working together at their optimal capabilities. So, if you do not play nice in the sandbox, well, then this is not the career for you.


TOP PROS OF BEING A PHYSICAL THERAPIST ASSISTANT

(The following are the top 13 advantages of being a Physical Therapist Assistant.)

1. Your paycheck will be pretty good.

One of the top pros of being a physical therapist assistant is that you can quite literally make a pretty good living. The average annual salary for PTAs is $59,440, and you might be able to bump that number up even more by working overtime during certain times of the year. Earning such a good salary means that you will be able to afford the finer things in life. Suppose you have dreamed of having a massive house with a hot tub in the backyard, being able to afford nice vacations, or just finally being able to have that dream wedding one day because your salary gives you some security. In that case, it is time to go for it.

2. Most jobs will offer benefits for you and your family.

As a physical therapist assistant, you will be able to provide yourself and your family with good benefits. These benefits include health and dental plans for you and your family.

Many hospital systems offer benefits that may consist of six weeks of maternity leave. Some companies will even offer more than that. Some plans even offer paternity leave for the father to take care of their child for a certain amount of time while the mother returns to work (company dependent). All of these things will allow you to spend more time with your family and less time worrying about your finances.

3. There are other perks attached to the job

As a physical therapist assistant, you will be entitled to some perks to the job. Some of these perks include paid time off for vacations. The ability to make your own schedule is a big one for many physical therapist assistants. Also, being a health care worker, you can get discounts at many local businesses. As a physical therapist assistant, you can get discounts for movies, amusement parks, and other places, to name a few.

4. You will be in high demand.

One of the pros of being a physical therapist assistant is that you will always be in demand. This is excellent news because it means that you will have job security. However, with such a high demand for PTA's, knowing where you should look first can be difficult. Some places may offer better wages, while some may provide more opportunities for advancement. It is essential to research and find all of the information before deciding where you want to work as a physical therapist assistant. The world is essentially your oyster.

5. You will usually have consistent hours.

One of the advantages of being a physical therapist assistant is having a set schedule. You can work in an office or alongside other physical therapist assistants and physical therapists in a clinic. Your work hours will be consistent from day to day if you work in the office setting. Having a consistent schedule is great because it allows you to be home with your family more, gives you an excellent income for medical benefits, and it is just easier to have an everyday life.

6. You can work in a variety of settings.

As a physical therapist assistant, you will have the ability to choose from various settings to work in. You can choose to work with children, the elderly, or adults in a hospital, sports facility, or private practice setting. You could work in the inpatient hospital setting, the outpatient hospital setting, or the community health care setting. You can also work in settings that focus on specific populations, such as children, athletes, and the elderly. You can basically shop around for work environments until you find one that fits you best.

7. You can travel and work.

One of the top pros of being a physical therapist assistant is that you can travel the country and work simultaneously. As a physical therapist assistant, you can be a travel physical therapist assistant. Physical therapy is one of the most desired jobs in America, and many people are thankful to have a position as a PTA. Being a travel PTA will allow you to explore the country and work. Traveling is one of the biggest perks that come with being a travel physical therapist assistant. It can be gratifying to explore new cities and states while working simultaneously.

8. You should not have trouble finding a job.

As a physical therapist assistant, you will be able to find a job anywhere. This is excellent news if you have plans of relocating one day. Let's say you want to trade in your winter snow boots for a surfboard in Hawaii. The good news is that you definitely can because the career as a physical therapist assistant can be utilized anywhere.

9. You can have an outstanding work-life balance.

One of the biggest advantages of being a physical therapist assistant is having an outstanding work-life balance. Having the ability to have a great work-life balance is unique for all jobs, but having it in your profession can be very unique. As a physical therapist assistant, you will work hard like everyone else, still, you are also able to have downtime when needed! You will not miss memory-making moments because of work, and you will have time to relax at home after a long day of work.

10. You will feel pride seeing your patient’s progress.

As a physical therapist assistant, you will feel a sense of pride in seeing your patient’s progress. You indeed are the difference in someone's life! As a physical therapist assistant, you are responsible for working alongside physical therapists to help patients who suffer from injuries or illnesses recover physically.

You will also help develop treatment plans that are tailored to each individual patient. Your work will include aiding patients who have balance problems, suffer from arthritis, or have had strokes. Patients with neurological disorders may also seek out your assistance. You will use tools like exercise programs, braces, and crutches to assist you in helping the patient recover their strength. When you see your patient's progress, you will feel pride knowing that you played an integral part in the process.

11. You are helping others.

As a physical therapist assistant, you will be helping your patients in every aspect of their lives. You will use your skills to get them back on their feet again. Whether it is preventing an injury or treating one that is already occurred, you are the front line of defense against pain. You are not only there to fix them up when they get broken, you will be working with your patients to help them avoid future injuries and pain. You will be teaching them how to move their bodies to be safe while they go about their daily lives.

12. You could be your own boss.

When examining the pros and cons of being a physical therapist assistant, the benefits are clear. As a physical therapist assistant, you could have your own practice, be your own boss, and set your own schedule. Once you get established, you can even work from home if you want to, but this is not for everyone.

13. You get to work as part of a team

One of the pros of being a physical therapist assistant is that you will be considered as part of the health care team. You will be seen as a vital component of the team. One of the top things you will get out of being a physical therapist assistant and part of the team is that you will receive constant cooperation from other health care professionals. All health care professionals need to cooperate with one another so that patients are taken care of properly.


My Final Thoughts


For many people, the idea of becoming a physical therapist assistant is intriguing. Being a physical therapist assistant is an exciting career choice because it offers the opportunity to work in different healthcare settings with patients of all ages. It also provides ample opportunities for advancement. There are however many pros and cons of being a physical therapist assistant such as opening your own practice but on the other hand, the career can also be emotionally draining. Choosing a career is one of the most important things that you will ever do in your life so, I hope the top 13 pros and cons of being a physical therapist assistant will help you decide if this is the career that you should pursue.


Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.