A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)

The need for physical therapy services is expanding rapidly, making PTA a popular career choice for those who are interested in joining the healthcare field.

With an avid interest in healthcare and a passion for helping others, Herzing University-Orlando 2019 graduate Danny Nguyen knew a career as a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) would be the perfect fit for him.

The need for physical therapy services is expanding rapidly, making PTA a popular career choice for those who are interested in joining the healthcare field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)1 projects 27% employment growth for PTAs between 2018 and 2028, adding as many as 38,000 new jobs. PTA is also ranked #3 on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Health Care Support Jobs.

We talked with Danny to learn more about what it’s like to work as a PTA, and what prospective students should know about pursuing a career in the field.

Why did you decide to become a PTA? How did you get started in your career?

I decided to become a PTA when I found my passion in health sciences. I knew healthcare was the right field for me when I first opened my anatomy/physiology textbook. Book after book, I became more intrigued, and I knew I wanted to help people. Through research and conversations with my peers and mentors, I chose the field of physical therapy, which aligned with my lifestyle and allowed me to continue learning and feeding my curiosity for health sciences.

What do PTAs do? What does your typical day look like?

A typical day for a PTA can vary depending on where you work. I work in an outpatient setting, which can be very busy. I can see anywhere between 16 and 32 patients during one eight-hour workday.

I’ll usually arrive 15-20 minutes early to review my schedule and see if there are any changes. PTAs have to be flexible and open to cancels and reschedules. If I see any new patients on my schedule, I will review their initial evaluations including what they’re here for, their insurance, medical history, goals and more. 

As a PTA, you’re part of a team, so I’m constantly communicating with my patient service coordinator if I have questions regarding the day’s schedule or my patients’ insurance, authorizations or medical records. I also assist the physical therapist (PT) by tracking patients’ progress and responding to changes in their status or response to interventions. Documentation is also an important part of my job, as patient records are an invaluable resource for other therapists and healthcare professionals.

I also regularly communicate with the PT regarding concerns about treatments, patient status, emergency situations and authorizations. We work together to maximize the quality of care.

To maintain our license to practice, PTAs have to continue to take courses to improve our skills and make sure we are up to date with the current practice, so after work, I sometimes read through evidence-based practice articles to find ways to improve patient care.

What is most rewarding about your career?

The most rewarding part of my career is the smile on my patients’ faces when they tell me the exercises I’ve taught them have helped them. I also love when they ask me questions so I can continue to be involved with their care.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

The transition from student to working professional has been challenging at times. There’s an adjustment period of realizing you’re no longer a student, and you need to rely on your education and the skills and values you learned to succeed in your role as a PTA. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be less experienced as long as you find an opportunity that allows you to grow through proper training and good mentorship.

What skills are essential for success as a PTA?

Flexibility, communication, creativity, clinical problem solving, and the ability to multitask are critical for success. It’s also important to always be prepared and to have good people skills, as you’re communicating and building relationships with patients regularly.

What advice do you have for students interested in a career in this field?

My advice for those who want to pursue a career as a PTA is to figure out the “why.” Why are you interested in this field of work? Why are you choosing this specific career? The “why” will motivate you through school and help get you where you want to be in your career. My other piece of advice is to be empathetic – help others and others will help you. Finally, have goals! Setting and tracking goals are key to helping you grow professionally.

What are your career goals?

A few of my career goals include:

  • Obtaining certifications in manual therapy
  • Managing and operating a clinic
  • Becoming a mentor to students
  • Getting involved in non-profit programs to help individuals adapt to their conditions

Ready to follow in Danny’s footsteps and start your career as a physical therapist assistant? Learn more about Herzing University’s physical therapist assistant program to help you reach your career goals.