How To Become Physical Therapist Assistant – Physical therapist assistant: Along with physical therapists, physical therapist assistants help individuals live active and healthy lives. Are you ready to become a physical therapy assistant? Let’s get started.
Physical therapy assistants interact with PTs to modify patient care as needed, collect data on treatments given, and perform many aspects of patient care.
How To Become Physical Therapist Assistant
From infancy to end of life, physical therapy assistants assist physical therapists in treating patients of all ages.
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However, physical therapy assistants also care for people who simply want better health and prevention of future problems.
Each individual will receive a physical therapy evaluation, and they will create a treatment plan to help them move more easily, manage their pain, regain function, and avoid disability.
Others work in schools, rehabilitation facilities, and home health care. Just over 28% of PTAs have part-time jobs.
To work as a physical therapist assistant in the United States, you must complete a physical therapist assistant education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
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You also pass a national exam administered by each state to obtain a license or certification, which is required in most of them.
A physical therapy assistant program lasts an average of two years (five semesters). Anatomy, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, clinical pathology, behavioral sciences, communication, and ethics/values are some examples of the main areas of the curriculum.
The physical therapy assistant curriculum consists of classroom (didactic) and laboratory study for approximately 75% of the time, and clinical education for the remaining 25%.
APTA does not rate PTA educational programs. CAPTE accredits programs that guarantee the quality of education provided to physical therapist assistants.
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You can choose to speak with current students, recent alumni, or employers who hire graduates to learn about the program’s strengths and weaknesses.
To streamline the application process for physical therapist assistant programs, APTA introduced the Physical Therapist Assistant Centralized Application Service (PTACAS) in 2020.
Through this tool, applicants can apply for consideration for many of the PTA programs. Currently, not all PTA programs accept the PTACAS application.
If they do not list the program you want to apply to as a participant, you apply directly to the program.
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A self-appointed clinical mentor with subject-specific knowledge advises participants. Physical therapist assistants are not required to join the program to work at a specific location because it is voluntary. A physical therapist assistant works directly with PTs to guide patients through rehabilitation therapy. As a physical therapist myself, I know firsthand the invaluable role that PTA plays in patient development. If you are interested in physical therapy as a career, don’t overlook the opportunity to become a PTA. I will give you all the steps below!
Although the path to becoming a physical therapist assistant is not as long as that of a PT, you will still need to undergo rigorous training to obtain state-regulated certification.
I will explore each of these steps in more detail later in this article. But first, let’s take a closer look at the physical therapist assistant career, so you can determine if it’s the right path for you.
PTA supports not only physical therapists but also patients and clinicians. Among their main job duties are:
How To Become A Physical Therapy Assistant
Compared to physical therapists, PTAs can actually spend more time interacting with their patients. Although they do not assign or design the plan of care, PTAs have the authority to modify treatment to reflect the patient’s needs.
Like PTs, most PTAs work in an outpatient clinic, but there are many other settings where PTA duties are required.
In addition to clinics, PTAs work in hospitals, such as acute care or subacute rehabilitation facilities that help hospital patients recover and be discharged. A nursing home or skilled nursing facility may also have its own physical therapy clinic, which is open to residents or other patients who have nowhere else to go.
A physical therapist assistant may work in settings other than a health care facility. For example, a home health PTA provides rehabilitation care in each patient’s home, just as they would in a clinic. Some schools and fitness centers put PTAs on deck to help with movement disorders and promote wellness. As a PTA, you may also work in a state or government agency, such as the military, or be called upon to help a corporate office achieve a more ergonomic work environment.
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In general, physical therapy management is a highly applicable skill, and PTAs are sought after in all industries, not just across the country.
As the population ages and children continue to decline, physical therapy will be in greater demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of physical therapist assistants will increase by 33 percent in the decade between 2019 and 2029.
Career prospects are equally positive for PTs and PTAs, but the respective salaries differ significantly. On average, a PTA makes just over $28 an hour or $59k a year, which is 30 grand less than the average PT salary. Increasing PT wages comes with its own cost in school and – in most cases – a potentially huge student loan burden. So just because you might make less money as a PTA doesn’t mean it’s a poor choice.
What do employers look for in a PTA? Also, apart from their education and qualifications, which we will discuss later, employers are interested in the soft skills of a PTA. All the training in the world won’t make you love a job if it doesn’t match your strengths.
Physical Therapist Assistants
These qualities will not only help you determine if PTA school is a worthwhile investment, but they can also show potential employers that you have what it takes to succeed in this career.
You need a valid, up-to-date, state-issued PTA license to practice as a PTA. But getting this license requires more than just filling out an application form. In fact, becoming a PTA requires years of training both in and out of the classroom.
PTAs need to be well versed in physical therapy treatments and feel confident in administration methods such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation. A good PTA is also a good communicator, able to effectively educate patients about their care plan and the use of specialized equipment.
So before you can apply for a PTA job or a PTA license, you have to go to school!
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After graduating high school or completing your GED, you will need to apply to an accredited physical therapist assistant program and complete a two-year associate degree.
To qualify, the program must be accredited by CAPTE, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. CAPTE is the only agency recognized by the United States Department of Education that accredits entry-level physical therapy programs.
The best way to find a PTA program is through the CAPTE website. With over 350 accredited programs nationwide, you’re bound to find a school that fits your needs.
Typically, an accredited PTA program culminates in an Associate of Science degree or an Associate of Applied Science degree.
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No matter your actual degree title, if it is an accredited PTA program it will likely consist of 5 full-time semesters of coursework and clinical experience. Some PTA programs allow part-time status or online courses, so flexibility is possible. Alternatively, set aside two years to complete your degree.
To complete your PTA program, you will likely earn between 65 and 75 credits, ¾ of which will be earned through didactic courses, such as the following subjects:
In addition to coursework, your education will include at least 16 hours of clinical experience – hands-on learning under the supervision of a PT or PTA in a clinical setting. Clinical training typically occurs during the last 3 semesters and is conducted in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, and outpatient rehabilitation facilities.
Once you complete your PTA program and earn your associate degree, you will be eligible to sit for your board exam, the National Physical Therapy Exam or NPTE.
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Both PTs and PTAs must pass the NPTE to become certified or licensed. If you are hoping to become a PTA, you will take a version consisting of 4 sections and containing 200 questions. The NPTE is a timed test and should not last more than 4 hours, with at least one scheduled break in between.
Unlike other standardized tests, the NPTE has no essay questions—only multiple choices, and no penalties for wrong answers. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that NPTE is a piece of cake. The test is marked from 200-800 points, and you will need at least 600 to pass. You are allowed a maximum of three consecutive attempts to pass the NPTE, or a total of six attempts in your lifetime.
Of course, when you are ready to sit for NPTE, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to study. I took the NPTE myself a few years ago, and I’m sure these NPTE study tips will be as helpful to future PTAs as they were to me.
Required by all states.