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Physical Therapist Assistant: Educational Requirements

Under the supervision of physical therapists at hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, fitness centers and patients' homes, physical therapist assistants provide rehabilitation services to people of limited mobility or function. They may teach patients therapeutic exercises, operate medical equipment and monitor patient performance. Physical therapist assistants typically must have an associate's degree.

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Physical Therapist Assistant Educational Requirements

Most states require physical therapist assistants to complete postsecondary programs accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA) Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Currently, there were 377 CAPTE-approved physical therapy assistant education programs, most conferring associate's degrees (www.capteonline.org).

Associate's Degree Curriculum

Physical therapist assistant associate's degree programs focus on rehabilitation methods. Courses may include therapeutic exercises, physiology, medical terminology, healthcare law, human development and rehabilitation procedures. Curricula typically incorporate three clinical practicums in the final three semesters of study. Clinical experience may involve first aid training and lead to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employers consider clinical experience a vital qualification of physical therapy assistants (www.bls.gov).

Educational Requirements for Licensure

Licensure or certification is required for physical therapist assistants in all U.S. states except Colorado and Hawaii. Licensing requirements vary by state but generally include completion of a CAPTE-accredited physical therapy assistant program. Candidates typically must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy; however, some states administer their own exams. Physical therapist assistants may be required to renew licensure or certification regularly by earning continuing education credits.

Specialty Certification Requirements

Some physical therapist assistants specialize in one area, such as geriatric, pediatric or aquatic physical therapy. A certification program is offered by APTA for specialists with 2,000 hours of relevant work experience and 60 hours of continuing education in the past five years. Candidates must also be APTA members, submit letters of reference from employers and provide proof of leadership experience. Candidates who fulfill all requirements receive the Certificate of Advanced Proficiency.

Career and Salary Information

The BLS estimated a 46% job growth for the years 2010-2020 for physical therapist assistants. This growth is considered to be much faster than the national average for all jobs. The BLS reported a median annual salary of $52,160 for these workers in May 2012.

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