How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant

If you’re wondering about how to become a physical therapy assistant, a great place to start your research is the website of the American Physical Therapy Association. The APTA is a not-for-profit organization that represents 77,000 practitioners and students, amongst them physical therapists, physical therapy assistants and aides. In particular, there is a very useful section on careers in physical therapy assisting, and links to the database of programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

Skills and Training for PTAs

Becoming a physical therapy assistant requires a blend of professional and technical skills, built on a sound general educational foundation, and qualities of empathy, sensitivity, and physical stamina that would be valuable for any healthcare related occupation. In particular, people wanting to get into this career need to undertake specific training to Associate’s degree level, in order to learn the medical knowledge and practical techniques involved in professional practice. Physical therapy assistant programs also include several weeks of clinical experiences, where students learn how to implement the skills that they have acquired in the classroom.

How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant

After getting training, it’s a requirement in most states for PTAs to be credentialed. The only states that don’t currently have this requirement are Colorado and Hawaii. Licensure (or certification, as it is called in some states) is dependent on passing the National Physical Therapy Exam for PTAs. Individual state boards may have additional requirements, and you can find out more about the specifics by visiting their websites.

The Popularity of Working As a Physical Therapy Assistant

One of the reasons why becoming a physical therapy assistant is so popular is that it’s a profession that has excellent employment prospects that have not been as badly affected by the recent recession as many other occupations. Increased life expectancy and the growing proportion of elderly people in the population is predicted to result in further demand for physical therapy services of many kinds, and PTAs will have an important role in helping PTs deliver treatment plans efficiently.

Another reason why it’s a popular job is because it offers such a wide variety of activities and locations. PTAs are devoted to helping people manage a disability or regain their mobility and cope with everyday activities after an accident, surgery, or similar. And as such, they are found working in many different settings, from rehab hospitals, nursing homes, and outpatient clinics, to hospices, schools, private businesses, and many others. They help patients manage injuries, dislocations, and fractures, treat victims of strokes, burns, and brain injury, and work with people suffering from conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, or COPD.

For PTAs, another attraction of their job is that every patient is different and requires a sensitive and sympathetic understanding of their condition. The ability to encourage and motivate clients to persevere in their treatment is a key skill, and requires excellent communication and other related interpersonal qualities. Physical therapy assistants have to enjoy working with people, treating each person as an individual and working with them to meet their unique needs.

How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant Student

As the popularity of the profession grows, competition for places on PTA programs focuses on applicants’ eligibility according to the criteria set by the individual school. Programs usually have a set number of places for each class, often limited by the availability of space in the clinical experience settings. It’s a good idea to find out as much as possible about a program that interests you as soon as you can. There will normally be a cut off date for applications, by which time candidates may need to have completed prerequisite courses, fulfilled observation or work experience requirements, and met other conditions set by the college.

Many schools like to meet prospective applicants before they apply, and make it a condition that any would-be student attend an information session and express their interest in the training to a faculty member. Talking to teaching staff is a great way to find out more about the program, and get general information about how to become a physical therapy assistant.

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