Physical therapy services are part of health care that is delivered by people working in three occupations: Physical Therapists, Physical Therapist Assistants and Physical Therapist Aides. The three and their Standard Occupational Classification codes are defined below.
29-1123 Physical Therapists
Assess, plan, organize, and participate in rehabilitative programs that improve mobility, relieve pain, increase strength, and decrease or prevent deformity of patients suffering from disease or injury.
31-2021 Physical Therapist Assistants
Assist physical therapists in providing physical therapy treatments and procedures. May, in accordance with State laws, assist in the development of treatment plans, carry out routine functions, document the progress of treatment, and modify specific treatments in accordance with patient status and within the scope of treatment plans established by a physical therapist. Generally requires formal training.
31-2022 Physical Therapist Aides
Under close supervision of a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant, perform only delegated, selected, or routine tasks in specific situations. These duties include preparing the patient and the treatment area.
Physical therapists need a license that usually requires a master’s degree for entry. Around 85 percent work in health care, 5 percent in education and a few try to work as self employed. Physical therapy assistants and aides are tied to working for, or with, physical therapists. Physical therapy assistants do not have specific educational requirements and only about 20 percent have a BA degree or above in any field.
Physical therapy services are like many services in and out of health care in that the occupational definition and work of physical therapist establishes that physical therapists can do all of the work of physical therapy assistants and physical therapy aides. Physical therapy assistants can do all the work of physical therapy aides. Employers have the financial incentive to limit the work of physical therapists to that part of physical therapy that requires the training and license of a physical therapist. By splitting the work into more specialized parts they can hire much cheaper assistants and aides to do the other work and limit the number of jobs they must have for the higher paid work. That goes on in millions of America’s jobs.
National employment as physical therapists reached 185,440 as of 2011, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as a job needing at least BA degree skills. Jobs are up by an average of 5,912 a year since 2000 with a growth rate far above the national average. Physical therapy assistants had 67,550 jobs in 2011 with jobs up an average of 2,130 a year since 2000 and a growth rate above the national average. Physical therapy aides had 47,640 jobs with jobs up an average of 1,184 a year and growth above the national average.
In general physical therapy degree training is either BA, or usually MA, but any degree training for an assistant might be an associate’s degree in some allied health program. Expect though that no one wants to do physical therapy degree training to be a physical therapy assistant. There is no AA degree in physical therapy as such, but various exercise and health degrees. Therefore, much of the work of the assistant is on the job training. The physical therapy aide job requires some on the job training but should be considered dead end work by itself.
Job growth is not the only measure of new hiring. Job openings equal job growth and the number of net replacements. Net replacements are people who permanently leave an occupation for another occupation or retirement and must be replaced before there can be any job growth. Job openings for physical therapists have been averaging around 8,705 per year in recent years; openings for physical therapy assistants are expected to average 3,525 a year; for physical therapy aides 2,324 a year.
Averages are not used much in wage data. A few high wages pull up the average and make it unrepresentative. Instead a distribution range of wages is published with the 10th, 25th, median, 75th, and 90th percentiles of wages. A 10th percentile wage means 10 percent working in this job have wages equal to or less than the 10th percentile wage and so on. Annual wages are converted to hourly wages by dividing annual by 2,080.
The entry wage in the 10th percentile for physical therapists is reported as $54,710 in 2011. The median wage is $78,270, and the 90th percentile wage is $110,670. Yearly reported wage increases barely keep up with inflation especially in the higher range of salary. Buying power continues to erode at the median and 90th percentile wage levels despite increases in monetary wages. Entry level wages boosted buying power at the 10th and 25th percentile wage levels compared to the 8 to 10 years ago.
The entry wage in the 10th percentile for physical therapy assistants is reported as $32,030 in 2011. The median wage is $51,040, and the 90th percentile wage is $71,200. Yearly reported wage have been keeping up with inflation. Buying power is up moderately over the last 7 to 8 years.
The entry wage in the 10th percentile for physical therapy aides is reported as $17,180 in 2011. The median wage is $23,680, and the 90th percentile wage is $35,340. Yearly reported wage increases are not keeping up with inflation. Buying power is about the same or a little lower over the last 7 to 8 years.
New BA, MA and doctorate degrees in Physical Therapy are part of 11 different Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Professional degree specialties and those 11 are part of 164 degree programs in health professions and related clinical sciences. BA degrees in physical therapy programs totaled 550 for the year ending 2009. The total is down from the recent high of 778 degrees in 2005. However, the MA degree and Doctorate degree are more important than a BA degree in physical therapy. The MA degree had 1,360 graduates in the year ending June 2009, but that was down from 4,687 in 2002. The doctorate degree had 7,192 degrees in the year ending June 2009, but that was up from 966 in 2001. Therefore the doctorate degree is replacing other physical therapy degrees as the education level for physical therapy.