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Physical Therapy Certification and Certificate Programs

Continue reading for details about physical therapy-related certificate programs, as well as certification information. Find out about admission requirements and common courses, and see employment statistics for physical therapy aides and physical therapists.

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Essential Information

While physical therapy aides don't typically need to complete a postsecondary program in order to work in the field, physical therapy aide certificate programs are available. These programs include both lecture-based and hands-on courses that prepare students for work as a physical therapy aides. Graduates of these programs may go on to earn associate's degrees in physical therapy assisting, which can prepare them for licensure as physical therapy assistants.

Professional physical therapists who hold a master's or doctoral degree in the field can pursue specialized certificates in geriatric, neurological or pediatric physical therapy that last roughly 1-3 years. Completing one of these programs can lead to certification in a physical therapist's specialty of choice. These programs are available in part-time and full-time formats, and applicants may need to complete prerequisite coursework in their specialty prior to enrollment.


Physical Therapy Aide Certificate

Physical therapy (PT) aides assist physical therapist by transporting the patients to treatment, organizing supplies and maintaining equipment, as well as providing limited assistance during actual treatment sessions. Since many employers provide on-the-job training for physical therapy aides, a high school diploma is generally the only prerequisite for this career. However, some schools offer academic programs leading to a certificate. With an emphasis on theory, as well as hands-on skills, the programs prepare individuals for entry-level positions.

Program Coursework

This is a familiarization program aimed at qualifying the student to practice effectively as a PT aide in a variety of settings where physical therapy is performed. Specific coursework includes:

  • Medical office procedures
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Kinesiology
  • Anatomy
  • Billing and coding

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), job options for physical therapy aides are anticipated to increase by 43% in the period from 2010-2020, which is considered to be much faster than the national average. In 2012, the median annual salary for physical therapy aides was $23,880.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

By earning an associate's degree in physical therapy, PT aides can advance to become physical therapy assistants. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org), there were 233 accredited PT assistant programs at colleges, community colleges and technical schools in the United States as of 2006.

Although certification is not required for physical therapy aides, physical therapy assistants are required to take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for physical therapy assistants, in order to practice. Some states require an additional state-administered license or registration examination. Certification in CPR and first aid is also often required.

Physical Therapy Certificates

There are a number of institutions that offer programs that lead to a certificate in one or more of the eight areas of physical therapy specialization, including geriatrics, pediatrics, women's health, neurology and orthopedics. The programs serve to prepare the individual to sit for a specialty certification exam.

Depending on the institution, programs may be pursued part-time or full-time and they vary in length from 1-3 years. In most cases, a certain overall minimum GPA in a number of prerequisite courses in the specialty is also required. An undergraduate degree in a related area and a master's or doctoral degree in physical therapy is required for admission into these certificate programs.

Certificate of Specialization in Geriatric Physical Therapy

Generally focused on the older adult, a certificate program in geriatric physical therapy concentrates on conditions resulting from afflictions such as hip and joint replacement, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and cancer. Emphasis is placed on the restoration of mobility, reduced pain and a general increase in fitness levels.

Program Coursework

Case studies are used and interspersed with didactic and clinical instruction to investigate various aspects of care for older adults. Course topics often include:

  • Psychological aspects of aging
  • Biological aspects of aging
  • Pharmacology and physical therapy
  • Nutrition
  • Neuromuscular physical therapy skills
  • Interventions for geriatric disorders

Certificate of Specialization in Neurological Physical Therapy

This specialization certificate program concentrates on the problems of individuals who have a neurological disorder or disease, such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. Neurological physical therapists deal with resulting dysfunctions that can include lack of or diminished motor skills, paralysis, imbalance or the general loss of the ability to function independently.

Program Coursework

The coursework in this program concentrates on developing knowledge and certain skills that enable the physical therapist to assist patients who essentially have to re-learn cognitive and physical activities. Classes in neurological physical therapy include:

  • Motor control
  • Motor learning
  • Examining neurological dysfunction
  • Neurorehabilitation by way of intervention
  • Geriatric neurology

Certificate of Specialization in Pediatric Physical Therapy

Using a variety of techniques and modalities, pediatric physical therapy certificate programs address the early detection and treatment of health problems in infants, children and adolescents. Children with congenital disorders or diseases, delayed development and those with acquired disorders, injuries or diseases are the focus of this specialization.

Program Coursework

The coursework stresses techniques in the development and restoration of muscular function and mobility in the pediatric population. Gross and fine motor skills, as well as strength and endurance are emphasized and integrated with the sensory processes of the afflicted individual. Classes include:

  • Alternative treatments and treatment venues
  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Adaptive techniques in pediatrics
  • Pediatric rehabilitation
  • Embryology
  • Therapeutic management of children with disabilities

Continuing Education and Certification

All physical therapists must, in order to practice, graduate from an accredited program and sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination for physical therapists. Certification is generally renewable every two years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many states require a certain number of continuing education credits as part of the renewal process.

In order to qualify to sit for the specialty certification exams, applicants must have a current license to practice physical therapy and a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in their specialty, including 500 hours within the previous three years. In some cases, applicants must be certified in CPR and emergency care.

Employment Outlook

From 2010 to 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that job openings for physical therapists will increase 39%. The median annual salary nationwide for the profession in 2012 was $79,860.

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