When Alicia Backer graduated from physical therapist assistant (PTA) school five years ago, she was eager to make an impact.
“I wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives every single day,” Backer says. For the last five years, she has been treating patients alongside her physical therapist colleagues. As a PTA, Backer collaborates with supervising therapists to provide high-quality patient care to people with injuries, pain and/or poor movement quality.
“In this profession, not only do you get to help people, but you also get to spend time with them. Quality time.”
A typical work day for Backer consists of clinical care of patients in addition to administrative tasks.
“I am blessed to work for a company and rehab director who provide me the opportunity to be both an administrator and a clinician. I also have the flexibility to be a coach and a mom. And I still have time for my friends and family.”
Today’s worker demands flexibility for optimal work-life integration. This is especially important in the millennial generation, which makes up over 30 percent of the workforce. Job flexibility accommodates work and family needs, decreases employee burnout, and improves worker morale.
A recent report released by FlexJobs ranked both physical therapist assistant (PTA) and certified occupational therapist assistant (C/OTA) as being among the top 11 most flexible jobs in 2018. FlexJobs determined rankings based on:
- Projected percent growth in employment opportunities between 2016 and 2026
- Flexibility of work options
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 85,580 PTAs and 38,170 C/OTAs are employed in the United States, with home health care and skilled nursing ranked as the highest paying settings for both fields. The projected job growth for PTAs and C/OTAs over the next 10 years is 31 percent and 28 percent, respectively. This means these jobs will be in high demand, likely leading to higher wages and more flexibility.
Flexibility for Physical and Occupational Therapy Assistants
Both PTAs and C/OTAs can expect increased flexibility in the coming years. Flexibility includes the ability to choose practice settings, job opportunities, and the number of hours worked. There are many different practice settings in which PTAs and C/OTAs can work, including:
- Privately owned clinics
- Skilled nursing facilities
- School (both public and private)
- Patient’s private residences (home health)
They can treat populations of all ages from infants to the elderly, and injuries ranging from athletics to factory work. It’s not unlikely that in a clinician’s career he or she may work with multiple populations or in multiple settings, either simultaneously (by augmenting facility-based daytime work with evening homecare assignments), or throughout various stages of their career.
Additionally, the high demand for skilled clinicians ensures ample part-time, full-time, and per-diem work. Each setting may vary regarding standards for work hours, but the variety allows one to tailor the job to fit a preferred lifestyle. Typically, benefits such as sick time, vacation, maternity/paternity leave, health insurance, and retirement are provided to full-time employees. These benefits will vary by company and practice location but are commonly provided to PTAs and C/OTAs.
Return on Investment (ROI) on PTA & C/OTA Education
With a salary range in New York State of $56,000 – 69,000 per year for PTA and $60,000 – 73,000 for a C/OTA, depending on experience and facility type, this route is a no doubt a smart return on investment. Both specialties require the completion of a two-year associate degree from an accredited institution. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, the mean annual cost of a PTA degree as of 2008 for public in-state schools is $7,816 and for private institutions is $26,493. Yet according to my own survey, the cost is now about $10,000 and $30,000 per year for public and private institutions, respectively.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) estimates the 2012 mean annual cost for an OTA degree is $7,325 for public programs and $15,745 for private. Both degrees can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis depending on the school and state. Compare this to the average cost of earning a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (2013 mean cost of $14,427 to $31,716/year) or a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy. Interestingly, AOTA does not list the average cost of this degree on their website. Google searches of various schools showed costs varying between $15,000 and $70,000 per year.
[Read Also: The Medicare Therapy Cap and the Imperative for Physical Therapist Engagement in Policy]
Regardless of tuition, once you’ve obtained a license to practice, you’re eligible to work with Rehab Alternatives in one of our many facility-based assignments. While many of our largest client-facilities prefer new grads to obtain at least one year of clinical experience elsewhere, our smaller facilities often support the training of recent grads. PTA and C/OTA assignments have an inherent degree of flexibility to accommodate the lives, schedules, and preferences of our clinicians. Staffing strategy at facilities often benefits from this flexibility as well; as census rises and falls with admissions, discharges, and CMI, the necessity to add or reduce clinicians to match caseload and maximize productivity is vital to the ongoing maintenance of a balanced budget.
We offer multiple location opportunities for PTAs and C/OTAs interested in joining our staff and encourage you to speak with a staffing specialist if you have any questions about immediate opportunities – or just to chat about this career path!