Once you successfully become a Physical Therapist Assistant, you may work for a while and then decide you are ready to advance your career.
For PTAs looking to further their education and advance their career, as well as students trying to determine their education and career path, this page has everything you need to know about PTA bridge programs and DPT programs.
Use this information to determine the best physical therapy education and career path for you.
Click to jump straight to each section:
PTA to PT: Professional & Educational Factors for your Career Path
It is best for prospective PTs and PTAs to choose their career path first so that they are most efficient in completing their education and focused on their career path. Overall, you will save time and money if you decide on becoming a PT first and complete the required education, rather than becoming a PTA first and then transitioning.
However, there are options available for PTAs to become Physical Therapists through PTA bridge programs and DPT programs. So, if you want to complete one of these Accredited PTA Programs first, you could even take some PTA classes online, and then work for a while before pursuing your PT education and license – you can go this route.
PTAs and PTs fill very different roles
PTAs and PTs work together but they fulfill unique roles. The PT is more focused on assessment and critical decision making in determining treatment whereas the PTA is more focused on interventions and patient interaction.
It is important to understand that both physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are just as essential in the practice of physical therapy as they are appreciated. Becoming a PT will not make your career more rewarding necessarily, although you could expect increased compensation your duties and patient interaction would change and for some would not be as fulfilling.
Each of these roles is necessary for guaranteeing access to physical therapy services as well as in offering PT interventions that enable medical professionals to work at the top of their scope, or “top of license”. In other words, together these two roles provide the best and most efficient execution and delivery of physical therapy services.
PTs and PTAs have very different educational and clinical requirements
Because the role of a PT and PTA are different, they require different educational and career paths. Usually, PTAs continue down their initial chosen path within the industry of physical therapy while following career paths guiding them to advance their knowledge, experience, and skillset in a specific area such as education, administration and management, clinical work, and more. Some PTAs may consider seeking the APTA’s Advanced Proficiency Pathway in a specific area.
About 10% of PTAs become PTs
That said, according to the APTA there is a small segment of PTAs (approximately 10%) who choose to further their education to become physical therapists. These students of the professional doctoral program are prepared to provide all aspects of patient management alongside interventions, as well as to establish professional and leadership roles in research, patient care, and education. It is common that these PT students further their education after graduating by completing residency and in some cases fellowship training.
Although many PTAs consider the idea of becoming a PT, as you can see only 10% of PTAs actually pursue it. This is partially due to the limited number of PTA to PT bridge programs available as well as the additional prerequisites that often require PTAs to return to school before applying for a DPT program.
PTA to PT Bridge Program Listings
For the PTA that’s curious about following a physical therapist’s education, there are just two “bridge” programs that formally incorporate the PTA’s credits, skills, and knowledge into the program.
Physical Therapy Program
The University of Findlay
1000 North Main Street
Findlay, OH 45840
Web site: findlay.edu
Physical Therapy Program
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
301 University Boulevard
Galveston, TX 77555-5302
Web site: shp.utmb.edu
PTA Bridge Program VS DPT Program
When the PT degree was at the undergraduate or 4-year baccalaureate degree level, bridge programs were developed. This meant that some bridge programs were able to give credit for undergraduate PTA courses toward a degree in physical therapy.
However, University rules do not allow graduate programs, such as the current DPT program required for physical therapists, to utilize credit from undergraduate courses. It is worth noting however that certain PTA and general ed course credits may still be utilized as prereqs for DPT programs but are often required to be less than 7-10 years old.
Additional prerequisites may be required of PTAs wishing to transition into a DPT program. Some examples include chemistry, psychology, physics, advanced biology, math, and electives. Nearly all DPT programs require a bachelor’s degree and completion of the GRE (Graduate Record Examination).
This often means that for PTA students wishing to transition, they must go back to school and complete these additional prerequisites that were not a part of their 2-year associates PTA program.
Additional Clinical Experience
It is common that PTA to PT bridge program students experience “aha moments” and develop a more complete understanding of why interventions provided in their PTA career were chosen and effective in treatment. Although completing required observation hours is easier for PTAs who have related experience, they may still need to complete additional unpaid volunteer PT observation hours or gain experience in additional clinical settings in order to be eligible for admissions.
This is not always the case and these requirements will vary by the PT program. Any and all applicants to PTA bridge programs and PT programs should be familiar with those programs’ specific requirements before applying.
Additional Options Instead of a PTA Bridge Program
Seeing as there are only 2 official and complete PTA Bridge Programs, many PTAs must look into additional options to complete their education to become a PT.
BS Completion Programs – More and more universities and community colleges with PTA programs are creating programs that are incorporated with baccalaureate degree programs within their own institution or nearby colleges and universities. These PTA programs lead to bachelor’s degrees in health care.
The benefit of these PTA programs is two-fold. First, the PTA gains additional knowledge in a specific area related to physical therapy. Secondly, the PTA is then prepared to apply to a graduate program in physical therapy.
Online & Weekend Classes – There is also a trend toward online education for PTAs seeking a PT degree as well as weekend classes. To go this route, determine the DPT program you want to apply to and its specific requirements. Then take any needed prerequisites online or on the weekend so that you qualify to be considered for admissions into the program.
Advanced Proficiency Pathways Program – Also, there is another option to consider, it is provided by the APTA and is called the Advanced Proficiency Pathways Program for Physical Therapist Assistants.
The purpose of the APP for PTAs is:
- Provide specific post-graduation education that offers advanced competency in a chosen area of physical therapy
- Promote career development for PTAs by strengthening the PT/PTA working relationship and encouraging continued education
- Aid PTs, employers, clinics, and health care recruiters better identify PTAs with advanced competency, knowledge, and experience in specific practice area of physical therapy
To learn more about the Advanced Proficiency Pathways Program for PTAs, visit the APTA website.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some of your credits will transfer but for certain requirements like biology you may need to return to school to complete a more advanced course.
Will I need to complete additional hours of unpaid work in a clinical setting?
Often times DPT programs will require additional volunteer clinical hours to broaden and deepen your experience.
Most DPT programs require completion of a bachelors degree prior to admissions.
What is the main difference between a PTA and a PT education?
The education of PTAs focuses on procedural and ethical standards and guidelines for safely applying physical therapy treatments. A PT’s education will focus more on deep analysis of complex medical mechanisms in rehabilitation, as well as critical thinking and decision making for treating a variety of conditions.
PTA bridge programs are not readily available and many PTAs will either earn their bachelor’s and apply to more available DPT programs or choose an additional educational option such as online classes or the APTA’s APP program. Depending on your location, your current educational credits, and career goals you have multiple options in addition to PTA bridge programs to obtain your DPT or advance your education and skill set as a PTA for additional career opportunities.
Related Resources on PTA Programs
If you are currently working toward completing your PTA education, the following resources will be helpful:
- Complete Database of CAPTE Accredited PTA Programs by State
- Information and Listings of Online PTA Programs
Additionally, you may want to learn more about the featured PT and PTA Programs listed below.