We created this comprehensive guide on how to become a PTA with a plan to help you start your career and tools to connect you with local and online schools offering the required education.
✔️ Page Updated: August, 17th 2023
Average PTA Salary
Job Growth Outlook:
7x faster than average
Length of Education
Average Tuition Cost:
Have you asked the question, “Why become a physical therapist assistant?”
Becoming a PTA may be a challenge, but it is definitely rewarding. Year after year a career in Physical Therapy is rated as being highly rewarding and satisfying.
US News ranks the best jobs and Physical Therapist Assistant is consistently #1 in Best Health Care Support Jobs and currently is #13 in 100 Best Jobs. Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ranks Physical Therapist Assistants as the 7th fastest-growing occupation in the United States at a rate 7x the national average.
You can become a physical therapist assistant in as little as 2 years, after completing 5 semesters of an accredited associate degree program, and then you can be earning annual wages of $64,510.
So, now you are probably asking yourself “How to become a physical therapy assistant?” and earn $64,510 annually? (According to the BLS in 2021 Annual Salaries ranged from $33,840 – $82,470.)
Well, we put together this guide to becoming a PTA to explain the exact steps that you need to take to become a licensed physical therapy assistant.
How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant in 7 steps
Follow these 7 steps to become a physical therapist assistant.
1. Obtain a high school diploma or GED
2. Apply to a CAPTE accredited PTA program
3. Complete your PTA degree
4. Complete 16 weeks of clinical practicum training
5. Get your state PTA license
6. Apply for PTA Jobs
7. Maintain your license by continuing your education
This page has a lot of information to help you learn how to become a physical therapist assistant, you can jump to specific questions using the table of contents below.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant?
5 Semesters or 2 to 2.5 years is how long it takes most people to become a physical therapist assistant.
For your education, you can choose between an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. Most PTAs opt to go for an Associate of Applied Science degree in Physical Therapist Assistant Studies.
The primary steps required to become a PTA are:
- completing the coursework for your physical therapist assistant associate’s degree
- completing the required clinical experience at your accredited program
- passing the national license or certification exam
- applying for state licensure
- finding your PTA job
If you opt to get your bachelor’s degree then it will take 4 years to become a PTA.
How to Become a Physical Therapy Aide
Now that you know the steps to become a physical therapist assistant, I want to make a distinction between PT Assistants and PT Aides (Physical Therapist Aides).
Sometimes Aides are not required to have more than a high school diploma with some prerequisite courses and are trained on the job over a 3 month to 1 year period without a licensure exam. Other times Aides may complete more education courses in a a 9-12 month certification program before they start working. Physical therapist aides work under the supervision of physical therapists and physical therapy assistants performing similar tasks with a slightly reduced role.
They must be strong and fit to help assist patients with their therapeutic exercise, while also possessing strong organizational and communication skills to record, monitor, and express patient progress to colleagues, patients, and patient family members. All PTAs will require strong interpersonal skills and certain specialty positions will require advanced skills as well.
What is a Physical Therapist Assistant Job Description?
If you are considering becoming a PTA the you probably want to know the job description of a Physical Therapist Assistant.
What does a physical therapist assistant do? (Click for more info)
Physical therapist assistants are valuable members of the healthcare team and can help physically disabled individuals rehabilitate, recover, and improve strength and movement. They work under the supervision of a licensed Physical Therapist and help assist patients with rehabilitation through implementing their therapy programs.
Physical therapist assistants record information about a patient’s history, current condition, and treatment goals. They can also help organize the patient’s care plan, provided by the supervising PT. Their goal is to help the patient achieve the best possible outcome from their plan of care, provide them with exercises, therapies or other physical therapy interventions, and may even help them with their rehabilitation at home. Physical therapist assistants work to increase a patient’s mobility and independence by helping them learn how to perform activities of daily living.
Aspiring physical therapist assistants will find that the duties they will be responsible for include the following:
- Making sure that the physical therapists and patients have everything they need.
- Helping the physical therapist and patient prepare for the physical therapy session by getting them ready for movement.
- Following the physical therapist’s instructions in order to properly assist the patient.
- Keeping patient records and updating them on a regular basis. Providing support and assistance to the physical therapist.
- Assisting the physical therapist in planning the patient’s physical therapy treatment.
Where do physical therapist assistants work? (Click for more info)
They are able to work in many environments providing patient care and treatment plans, such as a skilled nursing facility, outpatient clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers, where they can help patients achieve their goals for recovery. There are physical therapist assistants in all branches of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coastguard). Additionally, you can find PTAs working with athletes and professional sports teams, at physical therapy practices, and a variety of health and clinical practices both private and public. Although acute care physical therapy is common, chronic care physical therapy is also used for many types of patients.
Should I Become a Physical Therapist Assistant?
There are many great reasons to become a physical therapy assistant. The career basics are all covered such as competitive pay, minimal time/financial investment in education, high demand for jobs, and a variety of clinical practice settings to work in.
Becoming a physical therapist assistant (PTA) can also be a great first step to becoming a physical therapist one day (DPT – Doctor of Physical Therapy or Licensed Physical Therapist). There are PTA to PT bridge programs that PTAs can attend to become a Physical Therapist.
PTA’s are in high demand and earn a median wage of $64,510 (with a rising average salary) and a variety of job opportunities in different types of settings. The job outlook is excellent because there are not enough physical therapist assistants to fill existing jobs.
If you still aren’t sure if you should become a PTA then check out our in-depth article: Should I become a physical therapist assistant?
Why Become a Physical Therapist Assistant?
If you are considering a career in healthcare, then there are many great reasons to work in the field of Physical Therapy specifically as an aide or assistant.
What are the benefits of being a physical therapist assistant?
Here are several reasons why you should become a physical therapist assistant.
- Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) is an excellent way to get into the healthcare industry in a reasonable amount of time (2 years). While you won’t have the same level of responsibility as a physical therapist, the career will still provide you with a lot of variety, flexibility and competitive pay.
- A physical therapist assistant job will also give you the chance to work alongside others with the same passion, and you can learn a lot from your colleagues with the opportunity to advance to a Physical Therapist through PTA to PT Bridge Programs.
- PTA positions are available in hospitals, schools, clinics, private practices, and even in the military. You will be working with people of all ages, and you’ll see how your work can improve their overall health and happiness.
How Can You Learn More About Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant?
You completed the guide! We hope you found our 7 step guide on how to become a physical therapist assistant useful.
For more info and help getting started on becoming a PTA you may want to look into physical therapy assistant schools online or a local accredited PTA program. Already have your degree? Then it is time for you search for PTA jobs.
If you still aren’t sure that becoming a physical therapy assistant is for you then check out all of the specific physical therapy assistant requirements for completing a degree and also look into how much a physical therapist assistant salary is.
Questions About How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant?
If you have more questions about becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant, then ask the community on our FAQ page.
Wondering how can you find a job as a physical therapist assistant? Click ‘Jobs’ on our navigation menu to search for physical therapy jobs near you.