Physical therapy (PT) is a rewarding line of work. With advanced knowledge of anatomy and physiology, physical therapists help individuals recover from injuries, avoid surgeries and enjoy a higher quality of life. However, it can take quite a bit of education to become a physical therapist. Instead, you might consider earning a physical therapy degree with the goal of becoming a physical therapist assistant.
Since this role requires less education and training, you’ll be able to pursue your ideal career more quickly while still working in the field you’re passionate about. Take a look at what you can expect and where you might work after earning your physical therapy degree and completing a PT assistant training program.
Hospitals and Clinics
Hospitals and doctors’ offices are the second and third largest employers of physical therapy assistants, respectively.1 Many hospitals have their own PT department, and many larger doctors’ offices do as well.
In the hospital, physical therapy is a cornerstone of patient care and rehabilitation. PT assistants will primarily work with patients who recently had surgery or are recovering from a severe illness. For example, an assistant working in a hospital might help a patient take their first steps after having knee replacement surgery. That same patient may then work with a PT assistant in their primary care doctor’s office as they continue toward complete rehabilitation.
Outpatient Physical Therapy Practices
Most PT assistants work in private outpatient practices. These are clinics that typically take referrals from hospitals and doctors’ offices. This type of work environment can be pleasantly challenging for PT assistants, as the patient population tends to be diverse and no two days are alike. For example, you might work with a professional athlete one day and a breast cancer survivor dealing with lymphedema the next day.
Private outpatient practices tend to be fully equipped with standalone clinics. Although these clinics typically accept new patients with all sorts of medical issues, some physical therapists and assistants working there may specialize in particular areas. For example, one staff member might specialize in joint replacement surgery, while another has expertise in overcoming the challenges of limb loss.
Long-Term Care Facilities
Not all patients who are discharged from hospitals can return home right away. If a patient needs intensive care or doesn’t have an appropriate support system at home, that person may be transferred to an extended stay facility. Here, patients can receive skilled nursing care and specialized therapies, including physical therapy.
While some long-term care facility residents expect to be discharged when they are well enough, many other residents are in nursing homes on a permanent basis. In a nursing home, PT assistants may sometimes work with residents who are recovering from surgery. However, much of their work will be focused on injury prevention. For example, PT assistants can help prevent falls among seniors by helping them improve their balance and coordination.
Assisted Living Communities
Assisted living communities are typically comprised of a neighborhood of private or semi-private group homes. They are safe, secure communities for older adults who do not yet need intensive, 24/7 care. However, many of these older adults do have medical concerns and can benefit from physical therapy. A larger assisted living community might employ its physical therapists and assistants to work with their residents.
Home Healthcare Organizations
It’s not always possible or practical for a patient to leave his or her own home to go to an outpatient clinic for physical therapy. For example, patients receiving oxygen therapy and severely debilitated cancer patients may find it difficult to get out of the house. These individuals can benefit from having their healthcare professionals visit them in their own homes.
PT assistants who work for home healthcare organizations typically experience a great deal of independence in their day-to-day schedule. They travel from one home to the next, bringing all their mobile PT supplies and equipment with them. The majority of their patients are likely to be seniors and individuals with severe medical disabilities. However, PT assistants in this work environment may also work with pediatric patients who have developmental disabilities.
Some physical therapy assistants decide that they want to focus their career on sports injuries. If this describes you, consider pursuing a role at a sports facility, fitness center or a professional or collegiate sports team. In these work environments, there is a major emphasis on physical fitness and overall wellness.
PT assistants will often work with athletes (amateur or professional) who are rehabilitating from injuries and sports injury-related surgeries. However, there is also a focus on injury prevention. For professional athletes, it’s crucial to learn how to exercise and stretch safely to promote injury prevention.
You can begin your path toward pursuing a rewarding career as a PT assistant by earning your physical therapy degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Physical Therapy prepares students to successfully complete a PT assistant training program and go on to pursue licensure. Begin your academic journey at GCU by clicking on Request Info above.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.