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Physical therapy assistant salary & career outlook

Physical therapists help individuals recover from injuries, regain mobility and manage chronic conditions. However, they can't do their work alone. They rely on physical therapist assistants and aides to help them in a number of different ways. Physical therapist assistants have a number of tasks, typically involving patient care, such as:

  • Observing patients before, during and after therapy
  • Helping patients perform their exercises
  • Educate patients and their families about things to do after treatment
  • Use techniques (such as massage) and devices (such as walkers) to help patients recover

Physical therapy aides may help with some patient care, but their tasks typically also include transportation and administrative tasks as well, such as:

  • Cleaning treatment areas
  • Washing linens
  • Moving patients to and from the therapy area
  • Scheduling appointments and answering phone calls

Working as a physical therapist aide or assistant may be a good choice for those are compassionate and detail-oriented, but who are looking for a career that takes significantly less education than that of a physical therapist. In addition, job opportunities in the field may be plentiful, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that both physical therapist aides and assistants are expected to be among the fastest-growing occupations in the country between 2012 and 2022. Physical therapy schools, both on campus and online, can help aspiring assistants and aides get started in their field.

How much do physical therapist assistants and aides make?

The salary potential for physical therapist aides and assistants is quite different, owing to the different levels of responsibility and preparation needed for each career.

Physical therapist aide salaries

According to the BLS, in 2013, physical therapist aides earned an average annual wage of $25,990 nationwide. Aides in Alaska earned the most in that year, with average wages of $35,890. Vermont, Hawaii, Indiana and Colorado were other states with above average physical therapist aide wages. Professionals in those states had average wages exceeding $30,000 in 2013.

While states like Alaska and Hawaii pay higher wages, the cost of living there can be significantly more than that found in the rest of the country. Instead, physical therapist aides may want to look for jobs in areas where wages are still above average but the cost of living is lower. For example, the Louisville-Jefferson County, Kentucky-Indiana, metro area has a lower cost of living, and aides there had average wages of $37,190 in 2013.

Physical therapist assistant salaries

The BLS reported that physical therapist assistants in the U.S. had an average annual salary of $53,320 in 2013. Texas was the highest-paying state for these professionals, with an average annual wage of $68,370, followed by Alaska, New Jersey, California and Florida.

Texas was also home to the highest-paying city for physical therapist assistants (and seven of the 10 highest-paying nationally), with the El Paso metro area paying an average salary of $89,950. Other cities with above-average salaries included:

  • Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida: $80,240 average annual salary
  • Modesto, California: $77,460 average annual salary
  • Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas: $76,530 average annual salary

Job growth for physical therapy assistants and aides

When it comes to hot jobs, only a few occupations are in greater demand than physical therapist aides and assistants. The BLS estimates job growth for PT assistants will be 41 percent from 2012-22, while aides are expected to see growth of 40 percent for the same period.

Certain states have job growth projections that are even higher than the national average, with physical therapist assistants expected to see the best growth in the following states between 2012 and 2022:

  • Virginia: 54.9%
  • Kentucky and Alabama: 43.4% (tie)
  • Utah: 42.3%

During the same time period, physical therapist aides are expected to see the best job growth in these states:

  • Virginia: 64.1%
  • Georgia: 43.8%
  • Utah: 42.6%

In the coming years, the government anticipates job openings are expected to be greatest in facilities that regularly serve the elderly, such as skilled nursing, acute hospital and orthopedic settings. After completing physical therapist aide or assistant training, individuals may find job prospects are best in rural areas which have been traditionally underserved by physical therapists.

Options for physical therapy training online

Unlike physical therapists, who need a doctoral degree, physical therapist aides can be ready to enter the workforce in less than a year, and physical therapist assistants can be ready in as little as two years. Many schools offer diploma programs that cover the both the medical and administrative aspects of working in this profession. The curriculum at these programs may include an introduction to the following:

  • Medical terminology
  • Physical therapy treatments
  • Customer service
  • Health and safety in the workplace

Aspiring PT assistants (or aides wishing to advance their careers) can earn an associate degree from an accredited program. Upon finishing that, they may apply for licensure in their state, and upon completing any testing or additional requirements, apply to work as physical therapy assistants.

Sources:
1. Long Term Occupational Projections for Physical Therapist Aides and Assistants, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
2. Occupational Employment and Wages: Physical Therapist Aides, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312022.htm
3. Occupational Employment and Wages: Physical Therapist Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm
4. Fastest-Growing Occupations, 2012-22, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm
5. Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm#tab-1