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Physical Therapist Assistant School Program Overviews

Learn about associate's degree programs in physical therapy assisting. Research the educational and certification requirements of becoming a physical therapy assistant (PTA), as well as coursework associated with such degree programs.

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Essential Information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), physical therapist assistants are required to have an associate's degree to practice; most states additionally require certification or licensing. Several community colleges and technical schools offer an Associate of Applied Science program for aspiring physical therapy assistants (PTAs). These two-year programs prepare students to take the national licensing exam. A high school education is required for admission to such programs. In addition to didactic instruction, students learn through lab training and clinical sessions.

Education Prerequisites

A high school diploma or its equivalent is typically necessary for admission into a PTA associate's degree program. Some programs require CPR certification.

Course Topics

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), most PTA curriculums are broken into three sections: classroom instruction, laboratory training, and clinical education (www.apta.org). Students typically receive about 16 weeks of full-time clinical training. Common PTA classes include:

  • Kinesiology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Medical terminology
  • Healthcare legal issues and ethics
  • First aid
  • Exercise science
  • Rehabilitation

Employment Outlook and Salary

The BLS expected a 33% growth rate in physical therapy assistant jobs during the 2008-2018 decade. Fueling a portion of this growth rate is the increasing availability of physical therapy services through third-party payers. A growing aging population also creates a need for physical therapy workers, because elderly people are more at risk of conditions that require physical therapy. Being able to delegate certain tasks to physical therapist assistants enables the physical therapist to handle a larger clientele.

As of May 2010, physical therapist assistants earned a mean salary of $49,810, stated the BLS. Among the highest-paying industries were home healthcare services, nursing care facilities and elderly community care facilities.

Certification and Continuing Education

Many states require physical therapist assistants to obtain some type of licensure or certification, according to the BLS. Each state sets its own requirements for certification, but those typically include earning a PTA associate's degree and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam. Some states require candidates to pass a state exam and pursue continuing education.

PTAs who achieve advanced expertise in a specific aspect of physical therapy may receive credit through APTA's Recognition of Advanced Proficiency program. To qualify, potential applicants need to earn a minimum amount of professional experience, complete a certain number of continuing education hours, demonstrate leadership abilities and show good job performance.

Physical therapist assistants may want to advance their careers to become physical therapists. These individuals must earn a bachelor's degree and continue on to earn a Master of Physical Therapy or Doctor of Physical Therapy.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics