Physical Therapy Assistant Skills List

Physical therapist assistant treating a senior patient
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Working under the supervision of physical therapists, physical therapy assistants (PTAs) help patients with illnesses and injuries to reduce pain and improve mobility. As a PTA, you can work in a variety of settings: hospitals, private practices, sports and fitness facilities, nursing homes, schools, and more. 

Physical Therapist Assistant Careers

This is an in-demand role. Nearly 150,000 held jobs as PTAs in 2019, with a median wage of $48,990 per year. Career opportunities in this field are anticipated to grow 29% by 2029, much faster than average.

To be a PTA, you'll need a high school diploma, associate's degree, and state licensure or certification. (Licensing and certification requirements vary from state to state.) But that's not all.

Find out more about the important skills—both hard and soft—that are employers are looking for in this role. You can include them in your resume, cover letter, and job application, as well as highlighting them during interviews.

Skills Physical Therapist Assistants Need 

Hard skills are a must for physical therapy assistants. People in this role must have a knowledge of human anatomy and an understanding of how to perform certain stretches and exercises. However, the job also includes a number of soft skills that help physical therapists communicate effectively with patients and coworkers.

Another important quality for this role is physical stamina—expect to be on your feet for much of the day.

This is a hands-on role, literally—you'll be using your hands to adjust patients and help them exercise.

Take a look at some of the most essential skills for this role.

Top Physical Therapy Assistant Skills

Communication

PTAs communicate regularly with patients. They need to clearly convey instructions to patients, such as how to perform certain exercises. They also must speak with the patients and their families about what to do after treatment. To do this effectively, PTAs must have strong oral communication skills.

Because a PTA works under the supervision of a physical therapist, he or she must also be able to communicate well with the therapist. She has to listen carefully to instructions, and convey information about patients in a clear manner.

  • Active Listening
  • Assertiveness
  • Educating Family Members and Caregivers Regarding Therapeutic Routines
  • Explaining Exercises and Therapies to Patients
  • Instructing Patients about the Use of Treatment Equipment
  • Instructing Patients on Use of Adaptive Devices like Walkers, Crutches, or Canes
  • Interacting with Patients of Different Ages, Races, and Socio-Economic Backgrounds
  • Orienting, Supervising, and Training Students, Volunteers, and Support Staff
  • Providing Gait Training to Patients
  • Recommending Modifications of Treatment to Physical Therapist
  • Reporting
  • Speaking Clearly
  • Teamwork
  • Verbal Communications
  • Writing Patient Progress Notes

Compassion

Along with effective communication, PTAs have to be able to sympathize with patients who are struggling, often both physically and emotionally. They have to understand how the patient is feeling, and use that information to decide how to best motivate that patient and, often, the patient's family.

This is a helping profession, so people will flourish in this role if they gravitate toward helping others. 

  • Collaboration
  • Customer Service
  • Empathy
  • Encouraging Patient Participation with Tasks and Therapies
  • Interpersonal Skills
  • Motivating Patients
  • Overcoming Patient Resistance to Therapies
  • Positive Outlook
  • Relating to Disabled Patients
  • Remaining Calm with Distressed Patients
  • Tolerating Patient Setbacks or Lack of Progress

Detail Oriented

PTAs have to keep detailed records of patients' illnesses, injuries, and exercise programs. They must carefully track patient progress and report patient status to the physical therapist. To keep track of all of this, PTAs must be organized and focused on the details. While much of a PTA's role is hands-on, expect to devote some time each day to recordkeeping as well.

  • Assessing Pain Tolerance of Patients
  • Documenting Patient Progress
  • Following Infection Control Policies and Procedures
  • Measuring Range of Motion
  • Monitoring Vital Signs
  • Observation
  • Prioritizing

Multitasking

Often, PTAs must perform multiple tasks at once. They typically assist with many patients at one time and must be able to prioritize their duties. Therefore, PTAs must be strong multitaskers.

  • Applying Diagnostic Muscle, Nerve, Joints, and Functional Abilities Tests
  • Compiling Discharge Reports
  • Following Directions from Physical Therapists
  • Maintaining Equipment
  • Ordering Supplies
  • Organization
  • Reading and Comprehending Patient Information
  • Using Smart Data System
  • Time Management
  • Treating Multiple Patients at the Same Time
  • Working with Minimal Supervision

Physical Stamina

PTAs perform a number of tasks that require physical strength and dexterity. They must be on their feet for long periods, bend and kneel, and move patients. They also have to work with their hands to massage patients and set up equipment. To succeed in this role, you must both be strong and have stamina. 

  • Administering Traction to Relieve Neck and Back Pain
  • Applying Manual Resistance to a Patient's Limbs or Trunk During Exercises
  • Demonstrating Exercises to Patients
  • High Energy Level
  • Manual Dexterity
  • Performing Passive Stretch with Participants
  • Performing Therapeutic Massage

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

ADD RELEVANT SKILLS TO YOUR RESUME: In your resume and application, remember to highlight the skills your prospective employer is looking for.

MENTION SKILLS IN YOUR COVER LETTER: Allow your cover letter to expound concisely on ways that you've maintained or upgraded technologies in past jobs.

SHARE EXAMPLES IN JOB INTERVIEWS: When you prepare for your interview, plan to give examples of particular ways you have embodied the various skills your prospective employer wants.