Physical Therapy Tech Career Info and Education Requirements

Physical therapy technicians assist in the physical rehabilitation of patients recovering from illness or injury. Job duties and educational requirements vary by employer. While a high school degree is sufficient for some physical therapy technician positions, others require completion of a 2-year degree program.

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Career Information for Physical Therapy Technicians

Physical therapy technicians work under the supervision of licensed physical therapists. They may work in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities or rehabilitation centers. Depending on the employer, a physical therapy technician may be an unlicensed physical therapy aide who performs mainly clerical duties or a licensed physical therapy assistant (PTA) who provides patient care.

An unlicensed physical therapy technician assists in the therapy process by performing clerical duties, ordering supplies, updating patient records and answering phones. He or she may also keep the physical therapy areas cleaned and stocked, maintain equipment and bring patients to the therapy area.

A licensed physical therapy technician provides patient care by carrying out the instructions of a physical therapist. He or she may help patients perform exercises and provide therapeutic treatments, such as massage, ultrasound or electrical stimulation, that are intended to relieve pain, improve mobility and build strength. Licensed physical therapy technicians also help patients adjust to prosthetic devices and learn to use wheelchairs, crutches and walkers.

Salary and Career Forecast Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted job growth of 35% in the area of physical therapy services during the 2008-2018 period (www.bls.gov). Demand was expected to rise as an aging population required additional therapeutic and rehabilitative services. Employment opportunities were expected to be strongest for licensed physical therapy technicians who have an associate degree from an accredited physical therapy education program. In 2008, physical therapist aides earned a median annual salary of $23,760, while physical therapist assistants earned $46,140.

Education Requirements

The educational requirement for a physical therapy technician who will have no patient-care responsibilities is generally a high school diploma or GED. Many employers will provide on-the-job training for these positions.

In contrast, becoming a licensed physical therapy technician with patient-care responsibilities requires an associate degree earned through an accredited physical therapy assistant program. As of 2009, the BLS reported that there were 223 physical therapy assistant programs that were accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). CAPTE is affiliated with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Associate degree programs in physical therapy assisting generally take two years to complete.

Associate Degree Curriculum

Physical therapy assisting associate degree course topics typically include therapeutic exercises and equipment, orthotics and prosthetics, treatments for soft tissue injuries, functional rehabilitation, geriatric therapy, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and neurology. Associate degree programs usually include a clinical practicum, which consists of several semesters of lab work completed under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

Licensing and Certification Requirements

Before they can treat patients, physical therapy technicians who have graduated from an accredited associate degree program must obtain licensure or certification by passing the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and earning the regulatory designation of PTA. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy provides information about the exam and state licensing requirements (www. fsbpt.org). Basic cardiac life support (BCLS) or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification is also required for all physical therapy technicians.

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