California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Physical Therapist Assistants in San Diego County

May also be called: Licensed Physical Therapist Assistants (LPTA); Physical Therapy Technicians; Physiotherapy Assistants; Rehabilitation Assistants

What Would I Do?

Physical Therapist Assistants help physical therapists provide treatment that improves patient mobility, relieves pain, and prevents or lessens physical injuries and disabilities. Patients include post-surgical patients, accident victims, and individuals with disabling conditions such as lower back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.

Physical Therapist Assistants perform a variety of tasks. Following the initial and subsequent evaluations of physical therapists, Assistants typically provide a patient’s treatment. The treatment may include exercises, soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, electrical stimulation, paraffin baths, hot and cold packs, traction, and ultrasound. Also, Physical Therapist Assistants record the patient’s responses to treatment and report the outcome of each treatment to the physical therapist.

Physical Therapist Assistants in providing physical therapy treatments and procedures may assist in the development of treatment plans; put on and remove supportive devices such as braces, splints, or slings; and document the progress of treatment. Assistants modify specific treatments in accordance with patient status and within the scope of treatment plans established by a physical therapist.The extent to which an Assistant performs clerical tasks depends on the size and location of the facility.

Tools and Technology

Physical Therapist Assistants use a variety of tools in the course of their work, including back braces, hydrotherapy pools, total lift chairs, medical balls, and walkers. They also use medical software for documenting patient rehabilitation progress, e-mail, and scheduling software.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Instruct, motivate, safeguard, and assist patients as they practice exercises or functional activities.Social Perceptiveness
Observe patients during treatments to compile and evaluate data on their responses and progress and provide results to physical therapist in person or through progress notes.Monitoring
Confer with physical therapy staff or others to discuss and evaluate patient information for planning, modifying, or coordinating treatment.Oral Expression
Transport patients to and from treatment areas, lifting and transferring them according to positioning requirements.Coordination
Administer active or passive manual therapeutic exercises, therapeutic massage, aquatic physical therapy, or heat, light, sound, or electrical modality treatments, such as ultrasound.Therapy and Counseling
Communicate with or instruct caregivers or family members on patient therapeutic activities or treatment plans.Education and Training
Measure patients' range-of-joint motion, body parts, or vital signs to determine effects of treatments or for patient evaluations.Service Orientation
Fit patients for orthopedic braces, prostheses, or supportive devices, such as crutches.Visualization
Train patients in the use of orthopedic braces, prostheses, or supportive devices.Instructing
Measure patients' range-of-joint motion, body parts, or vital signs to determine effects of treatments or for patient evaluations.Judgment and Decision Making
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Physical Therapist Assistants need a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required in assisting patients with their treatment. In some cases, Assistants need to lift patients. Frequent kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.

The hours and days that Physical Therapist Assistants work vary with the facility. Many outpatient physical therapy offices and clinics have evening and weekend hours to coincide with patients’ personal schedules. About one quarter of all Physical Therapist Assistants work part time.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Physical Therapist Assistants may appeal to those who enjoy work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. This occupation may also appeal to those who like searching for facts and figuring out problems. It requires personal characteristics such as concern for others, cooperation, integrity, and attention to detail. In addition, Physical Therapist Assistants should be comfortable with physically touching their patients in order to properly carry out their work.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2015 for Physical Therapist Assistants in California was $68,873 annually, or $33.11 hourly. The median wage for Physical Therapist Assistants in San Diego County was $68,648 annually, or $33.01 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2015Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$58,133$68,873$76,782
San Diego County$56,743$68,648$76,751
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2015 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Physical Therapist Assistants working for large health care providers or government entities usually receive benefits including medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans. Benefits will vary by employer for Assistants working in smaller physical therapy offices.

What is the Job Outlook?

Job prospects for Physical Therapist Assistants are expected to be very good because of increasing consumer demand for physical therapy services. Specifically, long-term demand for Assistants should continue to rise as the number of individuals with disabilities or limited function grows. The increasing number of people who need therapy reflects, in part, the growing elderly population. This population is particularly vulnerable to chronic and debilitating conditions that require therapeutic services. They often need additional assistance in their treatment, making the roles of Assistants vital.

In addition, the large baby boom generation is entering the prime age for heart attacks and strokes, further increasing the demand for cardiac and physical rehabilitation. Moreover, future medical developments should permit an increased percentage of trauma victims to survive, creating added demand for therapy services.

Physical therapists are expected to increasingly use Assistants to reduce the cost of physical therapy services. Once a patient is evaluated and a treatment plan is designed by the physical therapist, the Physical Therapist Assistant can provide many parts of the treatment, as approved by the therapist.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Physical Therapist Assistants is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Physical Therapist Assistants are expected to increase by 35.6 percent, or 1,600 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

In San Diego County, the number of Physical Therapist Assistants is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Physical Therapist Assistants are expected to increase by 27.1 percent, or 130 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Physical Therapist Assistants
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
4,5006,1001,60035.61,000
San Diego County
(2012-2022)
48061013027.1110
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 150 new job openings per year is expected for Physical Therapist Assistants, plus an additional 100 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 250 job openings.

In San Diego County, an average of 13 new job openings per year is expected for Physical Therapist Assistants, plus an additional 11 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 24 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Physical Therapist Assistants
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
150100250
San Diego County
(2012-2022)
131124
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Physical Therapist Assistants typically earn an associate degree from an accredited physical therapist assistant program. Programs are divided into academic study and hands-on clinical experience. Academic course work includes algebra, anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, and psychology. Clinical work includes certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other first aid and field experience in treatment centers.

Early Career Planning

High school preparation classes in health, chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, social sciences, physical education, computers, and English are helpful for students planning careers as Physical Therapist Assistants.

Continuing Education

In the two years immediately preceding the expiration date of the first license, Physical Therapist Assistants are required to earn approved continuing education credits to renew their license. Continuing credits will be required throughout a Physical Therapist Assistant's career for license renewal.

Licensing and Certification

Physical Therapist Assistants must be licensed in order to practice in the State of California. They must complete an educational program approved by the Physical Therapy Board of California and pass an examination for licensing. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Many employers require Physical Therapist Assistants to be basic life support (BLS) and CPR certified. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Physical Therapist, Physical Therapist Assistant, and Physical Therapist Technician
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Physical Therapist Assistants are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 47.1%
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 20.0%
Nursing Care Facilities 11.4%
Offices of Physicians 10.3%
Home Health Care Services 3.4%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at schools and colleges offering a physical therapist assistant program. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Physical Therapist Assistants.

  • Physical Therapists
  • Physical Therapy
  • Hospitals

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Some Physical Therapist Assistants advance by specializing in a clinical area. They gain expertise in treating a certain type of patient, such as geriatric or pediatric, or a type of ailment, such as sports injuries. Many Physical Therapist Assistants advance to administration positions. These positions might include organizing all the Physical Therapist Assistants in a large physical therapy organization or acting as the director for a specific department such as sports medicine. Other Assistants go on to teach in an accredited physical therapist assistant academic program. Other opportunities for Physical Therapist Assistants include leading health risk reduction classes for the elderly or organizing community activities related to fitness and physical injury risk reduction.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Physical Therapist Assistants with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Athletic TrainersProfile
Physical TherapistsGuide
Recreational TherapistsGuide
Social and Human Service AssistantsGuide

Other Sources

  • California Department of Consumer Affairs, Physical Therapy Board of California
         www.ptbc.ca.gov
  • California Physical Therapy Association
         www.ccapta.org
  • The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
         www.fsbpt.org
  • American Physical Therapy Association
         www.apta.org

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification31-2021
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Physical Therapist Assistants31-2021.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)SRI
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Physical Therapy Technician/Assistant.510806
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Physical Therapist Assistant122200