Physical Therapy Assistant Questions
January 25, 2011 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Is anyone here a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA), or do you know anything about the career? Got a couple questions.

I'm looking at some non-computer-centric job possibilities and I have stumbled across PTA. I had been considering nursing but was turned off by the idea of working in a nursing home for the first 5 years (which people around here have indicated is routine for new nurses these days -- btw, I'm not adverse to working with old people, I just don't want to work somewhere so consistently miserable). I did work for awhile as a (non-certified) medical assistant, so I know I like working in a medical setting. And I'm not so tied to nursing as I am to working with/helping people, and doing something on my feet and with my hands. So I'm putting together a little list of careers to explore and I have put PTA toward the top of that list, as the work sounds very interesting to me.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of first-hand info out there about the PTA career so I really just wanted to post this question to see if anybody has insight into this career. I also plan to set up a shadow or informational meeting with a PTA to see what their day-to-day lives are like, etc.

As I mentioned above, it's been hard to glean a lot of info about being a PTA from the internet, but the few things I have seen indicate that it is a satisfying career (and I know that Physical Therapists report as being some of the happiest people with their work), that it pays pretty well and that you don't have the student debt and paperwork duties that the actual Physical Therapists have. All very nice, in my opinion.

On the negative side, people seem to say that it can get frustrating that you can't make the big decisions in patient care and that it is not easy to go from being a PTA to a PT. They also say that if you have any inkling of wanting to be a PT, you should go for PT and not waste time being a PTA first. As things stand now, I don't think I really want to become a full PT because I would need to do tons of pre-req's and then go through the very competitive application procedure, none of which I'm interested in right now. So I don't think this would bother me, but I'm wondering if anyone has any experience with this that may make me reconsider.

One other concern: I'm very short -- just 4'11'' -- and I see lots of things say that you need to lift people as a PT or PTA. Um . . . that's going to be a problem. Would my height (and inability to pick people up all by myself) be a issue if I went for this career? Would employers be less likely to hire me because of my height and (lack of) strength?

More than anything else, I'm just hoping for some firsthand opinions on this career. Are you a PTA? Do you know or work with someone who is? I'd love to hear about your experience.

posted by imalaowai to Work & Money (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I'm not a PTA, but do have a friend who is one and he likes the profession. He went back to school in his 40s after many years in sales. He didn't want to invest all the time in a full PT program because he already had a bachelor's degree so he did a 2 year program at a community college. He likes his new career path, although the pay is not outstanding.... However, even given the rough economy, he was able to find a job very quickly once he finished the program.

After getting laid off last year from a school counselor position, I started researching other options and I'm now enrolled in an Orientation and Mobility master's certificate program. You may want to look into it - pretty good pay, helping people, medical field, shortage of certified O & M specialists, and it's only a 2 year track. Here's a link to some info, memail me if you want
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:35 PM on January 25, 2011

Speaking from the perspective of a patient who recently spent some time in the hospital and needed some light physical therapy, I had the occasion to work with several PTs and PTAs. Both PTAs were really cheerful & seemed to like their jobs. Mostly both stood next to me to make sure I didn't keel over during therapy although I'm sure they are trained to handle patients in much worse condition than me; one actually measured me and adjusted a cane height for me.

BTW, my sister is a PT about your height & weighs about 120 lbs; there is training for shorties to handle patients much larger than you. Most patients are. She makes serious bank, not sure about PTAs.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:22 PM on January 25, 2011

Not exactly your question, but probably relevant.
My mom went back to school at about age 50, became a COTA (certified occupational therapy assistant), and worked for at least 5 years at a local HealthSouth facility. She really liked the patient work she did, but at her job, the assistant's duties included lots of prepping stations and cleaning the exercise props (also a fine part of the job in her opinion), and (her least favorite part) filling out almost all the patient paperwork so that the OTs didn't have to deal with it. After a few years, some staff cuts that resulted in less patient time and more operations/administration tasks, she became one of the staff cuts and really didn't mind, hasn't done anything OT-related since (except for giving me copious advice every time I complain about a stubbed toe or a sore wrist or whatever).
posted by aimedwander at 7:05 AM on January 26, 2011

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