Rehabilitation Therapist Assistant: Job Description and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a rehabilitation therapist assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties, and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Rehabilitation therapist assistants (RTAs) commonly work as physical therapist assistants (PTAs) or occupational therapist assistants (OTAs), under the supervision of physical therapists (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs), respectively. RTAs, regardless of specialty, provide therapeutic treatment and instruction to their patients. A postsecondary education is most often required; however, requirements vary from state-to-state.

Career Physical Therapist AssistantOccupational Therapist Assistant
Education Requirements Associate's Associate's
Other Requirements Licensure or certification Licensure or certification
Job Growth (2012-2022)* 41% 43%
Median Salary (2014)* $54,330 $57,260

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Requirements to work as a PTA and OTA are similar. Both need an associate's degree, and successful completion of an accredited program and certification exam are required by many states. General classes are similar as well, however OTA students learn about OTA fundamentals and human development. Below are overviews and detailed descriptions of career options for rehabilitation therapist assistant students.

Rehabilitation Therapy Job Description

Patients with permanent or temporary disabilities may benefit from some type of rehabilitation therapy. Treatment plans, catered to the patient's needs, may provide the patient with a better quality of life. Physical and occupational therapists are two groups who design treatment plans for patients, and their work fits within the category of rehabilitation therapy.

Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Physical therapy provides patients with physical treatments for patient pain reduction and optimal body movement. Physical therapy trains the muscle groups to work more efficiently, and patients often receive PT treatment to recover from injury or chronic illness.

Under the instruction and supervision of a PT, assistants are responsible for various patient care duties based on the patient's personal plan of care. The PT might instruct patients on how to use certain durable medical equipment or provide exercise instruction. Therapeutic administration is common, such as ultrasound, traction, electrical simulation and massage. PTAs also provide gait training and balance instruction.

Occupational Therapist Assistant Duties

Occupational therapy assists mentally and physically impaired patients with the skills necessary for daily living for an improved quality of life. OT patients may be recovering from serious brain trauma injuries or learning skills to overcome learning disabilities.

Together with OTs, OTAs devise rehabilitative exercise and daily living activity treatment plans for individuals. OTAs teach these treatment methods to clients, varying the activities as appropriate. They also monitor the patient's sessions to ensure the exercises are completed properly. Their rehabilitative progress is submitted by the OTA for the OT to review.

Requirements

Physical Therapist Assistant

Education and Licensure

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), successful completion of an accredited program and certification exam are required by many states (www.bls.gov). Students interested in becoming a PTA should seek programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

Most associate degree programs are four semesters, taking approximately two years to complete. Education is generally a mix of classroom education and clinical experience. Courses cover all aspects of everyday PTA encounters for proper preparation, including psychology, sociology, kinesiology, orthopedics, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, pathophysiology and neurology.

To qualify for the National Physical Therapy Exam administered by the Federation of State Boards in Physical Therapy, individuals must have completed an accredited program. Certified professionals are responsible for maintaining their licensure by acquiring continuing education credits.

Occupational Therapist Assistant

Education and Licensure

An associate's degree is usually all that is required to work as an OTA. Prospective students should look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). OTA programs generally offer courses in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, psychology, kinesiology, geriatric and pediatric interventions, physical dysfunction, OTA fundamentals and human development. Fieldwork is often a requirement.

Graduates of an accredited program may sit for the national certifying exam to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). To keep their credential, they must take continuing education courses.

Salary and Career Information

The BLS reported that occupational therapist assistants and physical therapist assistants earned averages of $57,260 and $54,330, respectively, in May 2014. Occupational therapist assistants are expected to have a 43% job growth in the 2012-2022 decade, according to the BLS. The BLS also estimates that physical therapist assistants will have a 41% job growth in the same 2012-2022 time frame.

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