✔️ Page updated: August 21st, 2023
Physical therapy is a branch of healthcare that focuses on helping individuals recover from injuries, manage chronic pain, and improve their overall physical function. A physical therapy assistant plays a critical role in the delivery of care as they work closely with physical therapists to provide treatment and support to patients.
On this page, we will explore physical therapy assistant degrees, the required PTA courses, the responsibilities of a physical therapy assistant, as well as the steps to becoming one.
Physical Therapist Assistant Education Program
Physical therapy assistant programs are typically offered at community colleges, vocational schools, and universities. These programs are designed to provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to excel in their careers as PTAs. The curriculum includes both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience. Students learn about anatomy, physiology, therapeutic techniques, patient care, and medical ethics. Clinical education allows students to apply their knowledge and gain practical experience in a supervised setting.
Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education
Accreditation is an important factor to consider when choosing a Physical Therapy Assistant program. Accreditation ensures that the program meets high standards of education and prepares students for successful careers as PTAs. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is the accrediting body for Physical Therapy Assistant programs in the United States. Graduating from an accredited program is required to become licensed and practice as a PTA.
What Degree Do Physical Therapy Assistants Need?
In order to become a physical therapy assistant, you need to obtain an associate degree. An associate degree is the standard educational requirement for entry-level positions in this field. It typically takes around two years to complete an associate degree program. During your program, you will gain both theoretical knowledge and practical skills in physical therapy.
Associate Degree for Physical Therapy Assistant
An associate degree specifically tailored to physical therapy assistant education prepares students to work effectively in this role. The curriculum covers subjects such as anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, therapeutic techniques, medical ethics, and rehabilitation strategies. Students also receive hands-on training through clinical education, where they work with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.
Physical Therapy Assistant Degree Online
With advancements in technology, many educational institutions now offer physical therapy assistant programs online. Online programs provide flexibility for students who are unable to attend on-campus classes due to personal commitments or geographical limitations. Online programs follow a similar curriculum to traditional on-campus programs, including both theoretical coursework and practical clinical experiences.
Requirements for Licensure as a Physical Therapy Assistant
After completing an associate degree program and passing the NPTAE, you can apply for licensure as a physical therapy assistant. Each state has its own requirements for licensure, which may include background checks, verification of education, and passing additional state exams. It’s important to research and fulfill the licensure requirements of the state you wish to practice in.
Courses Required for a PTA Degree
Below are some of the primary courses required in order to complete a physical therapy assistant degree program with more info on each class.
|PTA Courses||Offered Online?||Credits||Lecture Hours||Lab Hours||Class Description|
|Introduction to PTA||Yes||1||1||0||Required for PTA majors and can be taken by anyone interested in a PTA career. Offers a health care system overview along with specific roles of physical therapist and rehabilitation professionals. Some topics covered are medical terminology, communication skills, and medical documentation.|
|Kinesiology||Yes||3||3||0||Also open to anyone interested in PT and required for physical therapist assistant majors. Intro to concepts such as forces, levers, biomechanics, and locomotion. Some topics covered are insertions, origins, innervations, and actions of the prime movers of the musculoskeletal system.|
|Therapeutic Measurement||Maybe Partially||2||1||2||Goes more in depth on medical documentation. Discusses bony landmarks, measurement of joint range of motion, muscle length and muscle strength. Students will practice with eachother to develop their skills.|
|Pathology for PTAs||Yes||3||3||0||Overview of the essential nature of physical diseases and their abnormalities of structure and functional traits.|
|Therapeutic Exercise||Maybe Partially||2||1||2||Learn about physical therapy treatment interventions and patient goals using them. Material covered includes performing an initial PT patient evaluation, stretching, range of motion movements, joint mobilization, strenthening, aerobic exercise, and exercise parameters/progression. Focuses on clinical decision making for selecting exercises for different patient scenarios.|
|Motor Development||Yes||1||1||0||Intro to human motor development and developmental milestones.Material will discuss congenital, genetic, and acquired disorders with an emphasis on functional and structural abnormalities impacting human motor development.|
|PTA Techniques||Maybe Partially||4||3||2||Discusses proper patient care and handling such as positioning, transporting, bed mobility, vital signs, gait, massage, transfers, aspetic techniques, wound care, edema management, and cardiac physical therapy for the chest. Students will develop skills practicing with each other.|
|Physical Agents||Maybe Partially||4||3||3||Learn about therapeutic modalities and physical agents in a PT practice. Develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills through lecture and lab activities using heat, electrical stimulation, cold, hydrotherapy, traction, and more for therapeutic interventions.|
|PTA Therapy Clinic||Maybe Partially||3||3||3||Study therapy interventions treating conditions related to traumatic brain injuries, amputations, cerebral vascular accidents, spinal cord injury, joint replacement, neurological issues, and cardiac diseases. Focuses on activities promoting optimized functional results for patients and develops decisino making skills through lab work with ssistive devices, prosthetics, and orthotics.|
|Orthopedics in PTA||Maybe Partially||2||2||2||Learn about orthopedic conditions and the underlying pathology. Focuses on PT interventions used to rehab specific ortho conditions. This course is typically optional and considered an elective.|
|PTA Clinical Education I||No||3||0||0||160 clinical hours are required for your online PTA degree, they will take place working 40 hours per week for 4 weeks in a supervised clinical setting. Your interactions will be observed and you will learn professional communication and development while refining your skills and time management.|
|PTA Seminar||Yes||3||3||0||Extension of the intro to PTA and goes more in depth on our healthcare system and the specific roles of different medical professionals. You will learn more medical terminology, medical documentation, psychosocial aspects for disabled, professional growth, communication, and evidence based practice.|
|PTA Clinical Education II||No||4||0||0||5 additional weeks of supervised clinical experience for 40 hours per week (200 clinical hours typically). Students will continue applying and practicing skills learned in class and labs learning to become an integral part of the PT clinic or department.|
|PTA Professional Development||Maybe Partially||3||3||0||This PTA class discusses learning and communication styles, teaching, developing presentation skills, and other professional tools you will use in your career. Additionally you will observe prosthetic fabrication and witness PT in a rehab setting to better understand how to effectively education patients.|
|PTA Clinical Education III||No||5||0||0||Your final clinical experience is usually about 6 weeks at 40 hours a week for 240 hours and you will be allowed to practice all procedures and techniques that you've learned in your program. You will be expected to perform as any other physical therapist assistant and will also conduct a presentation to your colleagues.|
How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant?
If you are interested in becoming a physical therapy assistant, there are certain steps you need to follow. Here is an overview of the process:
Steps to Becoming a Physical Therapy Assistant
1. Research the profession: Start by gaining a comprehensive understanding of the role and responsibilities of a physical therapy assistant. This will help you make an informed decision and assess if this career path aligns with your interests and goals.
2. Complete prerequisite education courses: Most physical therapy assistant programs require applicants to complete certain prerequisite courses in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and psychology. These courses provide the foundational knowledge needed for a successful career as a PTA.
3. Apply to an accredited Physical Therapy Assistant program: Once you have completed the prerequisite courses, you can apply to a Physical Therapy Assistant program. It’s important to choose a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) to ensure quality education and eligibility for licensure.
4. Graduate from a Physical Therapy Assistant program: During your program, you will receive comprehensive training in areas such as patient care, therapeutic techniques, and medical ethics. You will also gain practical experience through clinical education, where you will work directly with patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.
5. Take the National Physical Therapy Assistant Examination: After graduating from a Physical Therapy Assistant program, you will need to pass the National Physical Therapy Assistant Examination (NPTAE) to become licensed. This examination assesses your knowledge and competency in physical therapy principles and practice.
6. Obtain state licensure: Once you have passed the NPTAE, you can apply for state licensure. Each state has its own requirements for licensure, so it’s important to check the specific requirements of the state you wish to practice in.
Job Outlook and Salary of Physical Therapy Assistants
Physical Therapy Assistants Work Settings
Physical therapy assistants work in a variety of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes. They may also provide home care services, visiting patients in their own residences. The work setting can vary depending on the specific needs of the patients and the goals of the treatment plan.
Physical Therapy Practice Areas
Physical therapy assistants can specialize in various practice areas, including orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, geriatrics, and sports medicine. Specializing in a particular area allows PTAs to develop expertise and provide specialized care to patients with specific conditions or populations.
Earning Potential for Physical Therapy Assistants
The earning potential for physical therapy assistants can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and the specific healthcare setting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physical therapy assistants was $58,040 in May 2020. Job opportunities for PTAs are expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate, providing good long-term career prospects.
What is a Physical Therapy Assistant?
A physical therapy assistant, also known as a PTA, is a healthcare professional who assists physical therapists in carrying out treatment plans for patients. They work in various settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and private clinics, helping individuals who are recovering from injuries, surgeries, or illnesses regain their strength, mobility, and independence. PTAs often work with patients of all ages, from young children to the elderly.
Responsibilities of a Physical Therapy Assistant
A physical therapy assistant is responsible for assisting a physical therapist in implementing treatment plans for patients. This includes carrying out exercises and therapeutic interventions, monitoring progress, documenting patient responses, and providing support to patients throughout their rehabilitation journey. PTAs may also educate patients and their families on exercises and home care techniques to continue their treatment outside of therapy sessions.
Difference between Physical Therapists and Physical Therapy Assistants
While physical therapists and physical therapy assistants work collaboratively, there are some key differences between their roles. Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who evaluate, diagnose, and develop treatment plans for patients. They have advanced education and are licensed to practice independently. Physical therapy assistants, on the other hand, work under the supervision and direction of a physical therapist, providing hands-on care and support to implement the treatment plans developed by the physical therapist.
There is a third role called physical therapist aides which are very similar to assistants. The educational requirements to become an aide are fewer in terms of hours and costs.
Importance of Physical Therapy Assistants in the Healthcare Team
Physical therapy assistants play a crucial role in the healthcare team as they provide necessary hands-on care and support to patients. They work closely with physical therapists to ensure the appropriate implementation of treatment plans, monitor patient progress, and modify interventions as needed. This collaborative approach enables patients to receive comprehensive and effective care to achieve their rehabilitation goals.
A physical therapy assistant degree is an essential step toward starting a rewarding career in the field of physical therapy. PTAs play a vital role in helping patients recover from injuries, manage chronic pain, and regain physical function. By following the necessary steps to become a PTA, completing an accredited Physical Therapy Assistant program, and obtaining state licensure, you can embark on a fulfilling career that makes a positive impact in the lives of others.
PTA Degree FAQ
Q: What is a physical therapy assistant degree?
A: A physical therapy assistant degree is a degree program that prepares individuals for a career as a physical therapist assistant (PTA).
Q: What do physical therapist assistants do?
A: Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists to help patients regain mobility and manage pain.
Q: How can I become a physical therapist assistant?
A: To become a physical therapist assistant, you need to complete a physical therapist assistant program and earn an associate’s degree.
Q: Where can I find a physical therapist assistant program?
A: You can find physical therapist assistant programs at community colleges, vocational schools, and some universities.
Q: What are the admission requirements for a physical therapist assistant program?
A: Admission requirements for physical therapist assistant programs may vary, but typically include a high school diploma or equivalent, completion of prerequisite courses, and submission of an application.
Q: Is a physical therapist assistant program the same as a PTA program?
A: Yes, a physical therapist assistant program is often referred to as a PTA program.
Q: Is the physical therapist assistant program accredited?
A: It is important to ensure that the physical therapist assistant program you choose is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
Q: How long does it take to complete a physical therapy assistant degree?
A: A physical therapy assistant degree program typically takes two years to complete.
Q: What is the average salary for physical therapist assistants?
A: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physical therapist assistants was $59,770 in May 2020.
Q: Where can I get more information about physical therapy assistant education and licensure?
A: For more information, visit our PTA License page and our PTA Programs page as well as our Online PTA Programs page. You can also visit the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) or the State Boards of Physical Therapy websites for more information on physical therapy assistant education and licensure requirements.