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What Do Physical Therapists Assistants Do: A Day In the Life

doctor standing behind his patient while fixing his hands in the right position

Becoming a physical therapist assistant (PTA) can be a great way to get started in the physical therapy field. As a PTA, you’ll help people on their road to physical recovery, providing many opportunities to develop close, supportive relationships with clients. 

A physical therapist assistant position is ideal for individuals with strong communication and social skills who care about others and want to enter a rapidly growing healthcare career. So is a PTA career worth it? Learn more about working as a physical therapist assistant in this blog post to see if this career could be a great fit for you.


What does a physical therapist assistant do each day?

The primary role of physical therapist assistants is to support licensed physical therapists in helping others with their physical mobility and recovery. They may work with individuals who have recently undergone surgery or are recovering from illness or injury. They may also assist physical therapists in providing consultative support to individuals with a disability and those with chronic illnesses such as arthritis.

Given the volume of patients, physical therapist assistants typically have busy days. According to a recent Rehab U Practice Solutions survey, most physical therapy clinics see 101-200 patients per week. As a result, you can expect to help a range of individuals address their physical therapy needs.

Here are some answers to common questions about the day-to-day work of PTAs:


What are a physical therapist assistant’s typical job responsibilities?

Although physical therapy is common for those recovering from illness and injury, physical therapist assistants can also work with athletes who want to build strength in a specific area and individuals who want to improve their mobility and overall health. Typical responsibilities to support individuals receiving physical therapy include:

  • Developing exercise and strength-building plans.
  • Assisting clients with exercises.
  • Helping clients and their loved ones understand how to incorporate physical therapy into their daily lives.
  • Following up with clients to assess their health and progress with at-home exercises.


In which settings do physical therapist assistants work?

Physical therapist assistants can work in various settings, including: 

  • Private healthcare practices
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Rehabilitation and outpatient centers
  • Schools
  • Private homes

Depending on the setting, physical therapist assistants may work a typical day shift, with the possibility of overtime and weekend hours.


What is the average salary for a physical therapist assistant?

A career as a physical therapist assistant can be a lucrative choice with exceptional opportunities for growth. Your expected salary depends on your location, experience level and work setting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries range from $37,280 to $80,170, with the 50th percentile making $61,180. When you’re just starting out, you may make less, but with experience, you can expect your earning potential to grow.

Becoming a physical therapist assistant also offers excellent job security, as there will likely always be individuals who need recovery and physical mobility support. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment of physical therapist assistants and aides is expected to grow 24% through 2031 — much faster than the average for all occupations. Moreover, physical therapy is commonly covered by most health insurance plans, making the profession a safe career choice even during an economic downturn.


What skills do you need to be a physical therapist assistant?

Physical therapy is a licensed and regulated profession, so you must select a program that provides the technical skills you need to successfully perform in your role.

By selecting a high-quality education program that prepares you to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), you will build the knowledge and skills needed to pass the exam and earn your state license. Core skills you can expect to gain include:

  • How to develop mobility plans that address musculoskeletal, nervous system and cardiopulmonary challenges.
  • How to use the equipment and devices designed to help patients restore health and mobility.
  • Techniques for maintaining patient safety and protection while exercising.

Interpersonal skills are also critical to becoming a PTA. Physical therapy patients can include people of all ages, genders and walks of life, so you need to communicate clearly, offer encouragement and be a good listener. Additionally, you’ll sometimes encounter challenging patients who need more assistance and reinforcement, so you’ll also need patience.


How long does it take to become a physical therapist assistant?

Unlike other healthcare professions that can take several years of study and clinical experience before you begin working, you can become a physical therapist assistant in a relatively short period. 

Select the right education program to ensure a smooth path to a career in physical therapy. The Physical Therapist Assistant Program at Southern Nazarene University (SNU) offers the coursework that prepares you to sit the NPTE. 

Depending on how you structure your program and how many credits you take each semester, you can graduate in as few as 23 months. In SNU’s challenging and rewarding PTA program, you’ll take classes 1-2 nights per week, allowing you to continue with your other responsibilities, such as working full-time or raising a family. The program also includes clinical experiences that will help you learn about the real-world work of physical therapist assistants.


Explore a career as a physical therapist assistant.

If you’re interested in beginning a career in physical therapy, becoming a physical therapist assistant is a perfect start. In about two years, you can complete your PTA educational program and get fully prepared to sit for the NPTE. From there, you can get started on an exciting career path in which you can help individuals regain mobility and improve their health. 

Whether you’re interested in making a career change or have been thinking about going back to school, working in physical therapy is a great way to launch an exciting healthcare career. Of course, starting a new education program is no small undertaking, but there are financial aid options and other resources to help you. Want to learn more? Read our e-book, The Complete Guide to Financial Aid.


Download SNU's Financial Aid Guide

Graduation from a physical therapist assistant education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), 3030 Potomac Ave., Suite 100 Alexandria, VA 22305-3085; phone; 703-706-3245; is necessary for eligibility to sit for the licensure examination, which is required in all states.

Effective October 25, 2022, Southern Nazarene University has been granted Candidate for Accreditation status by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (3030 Potomac Ave., Suite 100, Alexandria, Virginia 22305-3085; phone: 703-706-3245; email: If needing to contact the program/institution directly, please call Dr. Loren McElroy, Program Director, at 405.491.6630 or email

Candidate for Accreditation is an accreditation status of affiliation with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education that indicates the program may matriculate students in technical/professional courses. Achievement of Candidate for Accreditation status does not assure that the program will be granted Initial Accreditation.

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Have questions about SNU or need help determining which program is the right fit? Fill out the form and an enrollment counselor will follow-up to answer your questions!

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