Within the realm of therapy care, there are multiple directions for a professional to take during their career. While there are many rewarding career opportunities, pursuing a career as a physical therapist assistant (PTA) or a certified occupational therapist assistant (COTA) is a strategic move in today’s landscape.
“Whether you already have your license or are considering a certification program, now is the perfect time to be a PTA or COTA,” says Daniela D`Alessandro, a Managing Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Health Services division. “Not only is the demand for therapy assistants higher than ever before, but these roles can also serve as stepping stones to more advanced certifications.”
This trend comes as a result of several factors. For example, an aging patient population has created a stronger demand for therapeutic care. “To provide baby boomers with therapy services they now require, providers need to bring on assistants to support physical and/or occupational therapists in carrying out their plan of care,” explains Daniela. “Many facilities maintain a ratio of 3 assistants to 1 therapist, so this growth in opportunities for assistants shows no sign of slowing down!”
Today’s focus on continuum-based care is another factor that has led to the rise in opportunities for PTAs and COTAs. “To lower a patient’s risk of re-hospitalization and long-term health issues after a procedure, there has been a greater emphasis on comprehensive care management in recent years,” explains Mindy Booth, OTR/L and Senior Director of Clinical Services for The Execu|Search Group’s Health Services team. “Since therapy can be a major part of care management, facilities will assign PTAs and COTAs to assist patients during post-operative rehabilitation.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities for these positions will grow by 40 percent through 2024—considerably higher than the average growth rate for all occupations of 7 percent. According to Daniela and Mindy, the majority of these positions can be found at both long-term care and sub-acute facilities. “The benefits of working at either of these types of facilities are numerous,” says Daniela. “Not only do you get to work under a licensed professional and be part of an interdisciplinary team, but you also gain exposure to patients with a range of different diagnoses. Gaining this exposure now will help make you more marketable for future opportunities.”
With the rise in demand for PTAs and COTAs, schools are beginning to implement and/or expand programs specifically tailored to these roles. Through completion of these programs and entry-level opportunities, PTAs and COTAs also have a chance to receive mentorship from Physical or Occupational Therapists. “If you’re someone who may be interested in expanding their level of expertise in the future, having someone who can guide and mentor you through your experience as an assistant is invaluable,” says Mindy. “Becoming a PTA or COTA is an excellent career path as the field is only going to expand over the next decade, and can also provide the resources you’ll need should you want to pursue more advanced certifications in the future!”