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Starting Salary for Physical Therapy Assistants


Name: Steve Brown
Job Title: Physical Therapy Assistant
Where: Caldwell, ID
Employer: Peoplefirst Rehabilitation
Years of Experience: 10
Education: A.A.S. (Associate of Applied Science) From Idaho State University
Salary: See the PayScale Research Center for the median salary of physical therapy assistant professionals.

Starting Salary for Physical Therapy Assistants

What is the yearly salary for a physical therapy assistant? If you’ve pondered this question and what physical therapy assistant work settings are really like, then you don’t want to miss this Salary Story with physical therapy assistant Steve Brown.

He walked us through the factors that can affect a physical therapist assistant hourly wage, the training for physical therapy assistants and how to find jobs in physical therapy assistant fields. If you’re interested in this growing career and the pay scale for physical therapy assistants, this interview will guide you through the steps.

Physical Therapy Assistant Job Description:

A physical therapist assistant is responsible for carrying out a treatment plan established by a licensed physical therapist. The rules are different in each state, but in my state, the physical therapy assistant is typically able to perform and provide all the therapy services as delegated by the supervising physical therapist, with the exception of duties that are evaluative in nature: initial evaluations, changes to the treatment plan, re-evaluations and discharge evaluations.

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I do the therapeutic exercises with clients – gait training (how the person walks), balance retraining, and modalities (e.g. electrical stimulation, ultrasound, etc.) – that you would normally associate with physical therapists. Essentially, I can do anything a physical therapist can, except most of the paperwork, which suits me fine.

Why did you choose to become a physical therapy assistant?

I decided on a career in physical therapy in my senior year of high school following an injury to my shoulder during a wrestling match. I was impressed by the knowledge of my physical therapist and his ability to help me recover from my injury so rapidly. I wanted to be a physical therapist, but was a little intimidated by the amount of time (and money) it took to get my Master’s degree.

I began attending college at Idaho State University because it was the closest school with a physical therapy program. When a physical therapy assistant program was announced, I decided to pursue that as a way to get my career started so that I could be working in the field while I finished my full physical therapy degree.

During the course of the program there are three clinical affiliations that you are required to fulfill. This is an unpaid four to eight week immersion in real settings working with real patients, therapists and doctors. You get an opportunity to practice the things you learn in class as well as watch “real” therapists in action, while gaining an increased understanding of what is going on.

After two and a half years of school (including summer classes), I graduated with an A.A.S. After passing a national exam and obtaining a license in my state, I began working at an outpatient clinic. I did my final clinical affiliation by doing everything from sports/orthopedic therapy to home health and pediatrics without having any time between graduating and full-time employment.

I continue to work as an physical therapy assistant with the eventual goal of becoming a full physical therapist at a later time.

Any memorable moments from your physical therapy assistant work settings?

Currently, I work in a skilled nursing facility doing therapy on the residents. I have the opportunity to share thousands of years of life experiences from people of all walks of life. One of the great perks is to hear stories from the lives of the people I work with.

I remember working with an 80-plus “young” woman who ran over herself with her Ford Bronco while picking apples at an orchard. Why was she out in an orchard picking apples at 80? Because she could. She broke her arm, several ribs, and her leg, but with therapy and a wonderful attitude and work ethic, she was able to walk out of that nursing home in a little over three months.

What type of training for physical therapy assistants would you recommend?

My advice is to do a lot of volunteer (or paid if you can get it) work at a local physical therapy clinic as a physical therapy aide. This will do two things: give you a taste of what the culture and atmosphere are like, and second, give you much needed experience that you can put on an application for a PTA program of your choice.

No matter which program you apply for, invariably, you will be required to have a minimum number of experience hours listed on your program application. Also, start college now. Even if you aren’t sure exactly what career you want to pursue, get a head start on your general education requirements. It will save you a lot of time later, I promise.

It also is helpful to complete as many of the academic prerequisites for your program as possible before you apply. Your program will have a list that they send out that will let you know what classes are required to graduate. It wasn’t mandatory that they be completed before taking the program I attended, so I did some of them while in the program itself.

Also, if you know a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant, ask a lot of questions. States vary as far as duties of physical therapy assistants and therapists, it would be helpful to ask one in the state where you live or intend to practice. Also, different settings each have their own pros and cons, so be sure you talk to therapists/assistants from a variety of settings, if possible.

What is the outlook for jobs in physical therapy assistant markets?

Excellent. A licensed physical therapy assistant can find well-paying work in every state, in just about any town. Look up physical therapy on any career list web site and you will get all the statistics that will back me up on this. These jobs are not usually listed in the local papers, although they can be.

If you don’t get a job at one of your clinical affiliations, you will get recruiters filling your mailbox with offers, or phone calls and e-mails. If none of those opportunities appeals to you, get online and run a search on any search engine. In a few seconds you will see what I mean; [there are jobs] literally everywhere, and in a variety of settings.

What factors can influence the salary of physical therapy assistant professionals?

Larger companies generally (but not always) pay higher salaries. Employers in places with a higher cost of living generally pay more, and regionally there are differences depending on need. Rural areas have a different type of demand from urban or suburban areas. All of these areas have different benefits and drawbacks associated with them as well.

Another factor to consider is the setting in which you choose to work. In my experience, usually, but not always, outpatient clinics are on the lower end of the salary spectrum because they are what most therapists want right out of college; therefore the demand is filled easier.

However, almost invariably the SNF (skilled nursing facility) has the highest demand for therapists and assistants, therefore the incentives (money) will be greater at these places. The reason for the high demand is twofold, in my opinion.

First, there are an increasing number of aging baby boomers entering into various levels of skilled care and the number of patients requiring some sort of therapeutic intervention is going to increase accordingly. Second, the number of therapists out of the available new grads that choose to work in the SNF setting has never been high percentage-wise.

This leads to an opportunity for the candidate, who is seeking a unique and truly rewarding career as a SNF therapist, to basically go anywhere and be compensated very well. There are a number of ways you can determine how much (generally) you can make in your area by checking online at one of the salary calculating web sites available.

If you have the desire to really help people, be paid a livable wage, and to get the most bang for your educational buck, with a shorter time in school, there are few ways to beat a career as a physical therapist assistant.

Does a license affect the salary of physical therapy assistants?

Depending on the state where you intend to practice, a license is mandatory. A few states don’t require licenses to practice as a physical therapy assistant, but all the states that I am aware of require that you have at least graduated from an accredited program. 

Most, however, require that you are actively licensed in the state you work in. I can only speculate about how a license affects your salary in those states that don’t require licenses, but I imagine it wouldn’t hurt your physical therapy assistant salary.

How does your salary compare to the salary of physical therapy assistant? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. But when you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale’s full Salary Survey.

Matt Schneider
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