Physical Therapist Assistant Programs

Physical therapist assistant programs are offered across the country for students who want to get into the exciting and fast growing career of physical therapy assisting. It’s a job which suits people who enjoy working with others on a daily basis, and who have an interest in helping those who are suffering from pain after an accident or illness, have trouble with mobility or are otherwise disabled, or are recovering from surgery.

Physical therapy assistants don’t just deal with physical ailments. They also contribute to the wellness of the whole person. Working under the direction of a licensed physical therapist, they help to deliver treatment within the context of the plan established by the PT to assess and alleviate movement dysfunction and prevent its recurrence. An important part of the PTA’s role is communication — not just with the patient, but also with the others involved in their care, be they other members of a health care team or members of the patient’s family.

For this reason, faculty members in physical therapist assistant schools look for students who can show evidence of good skills in areas such as written and spoken English, as well as the requisite standard in other general subjects, and skills of empathy, adaptability, problem solving, and time management.

Finding a PTA Program

Physical Therapist Assistant Programs

In the US, PTA programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, or CAPTE. This is the only agency recognized by the US Department of Education to confer accredited status to entry-level PTA training. It’s particularly important to make sure that you enroll in an accredited program, because graduation from one of these courses is a precondition of eligibility for professional licensure in most states. It also helps to assure students that a particular program meets acceptable educational standards, after having been subjected to a process of peer review and inspections.

CAPTE maintains a directory of accredited programs on its website. You can search by state, find contact details of program directors, and get links to faculty pages on college websites.

Admission to PTA Programs

Entry to a program is normally selective, and requires applicants to fulfil criteria which differ between colleges. Candidates are normally required to have completed general education courses before they apply, some of which may be taken at high school during the senior year. Subjects commonly required include math, biology, chemistry or physics, as well as college-level English composition. It may also be valuable to have studied courses such as foundational kinesiology and medical terminology.

Students must complete all these required courses with a minimum GPA of 2.5 to at least grade C. Some colleges administer specific entrance tests, such as a performance-based Health Sciences Application Test or the HOBET V test. An interview is sometimes part of the process.

In order to get a realistic view of what a program entails, schools usually schedule a series of information sessions or orientation meetings, during which prospective students can voice their interest in the program, get to know faculty members, ask questions, and find out more about the course.

What Are Physical Therapist Assistant Programs Like?

PTA programs integrate theoretical, academic instruction with hands-on lab training and practical experience in a clinical setting. In this way, students learn the knowledge and skills necessary to become effective practitioners. Faculty advisors are normally at pains to point out that it’s a demanding course which does not leave much room for part-time work. A few colleges do offer the option to follow lectures online, but there are no accredited courses which offer all their content by distance learning.

Technical classes are likely to include the following:

  • Basic Principles
  • Documentation Skills
  • Testing and Measuring in Physical Therapy
  • Treatment Techniques
  • Pathophysiology
  • Gait Analysis
  • Therapeutic Exercise
  • Neurophysiology
  • Professional Issues
  • Clinical Experiences

There is normally a prescribed sequence for the progression from one course to another, over a period of five or six semesters. At the end of the program, successfully graduating students are usually awarded an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree. They will then normally be eligible to take a licensure examination, in order to be certified for professional practice. Almost every state in the US requires PTAs to hold a current license.

There are currently some 270 accredited physical therapist assistant programs on offer across the country. Graduation from one of these programs has become pretty much essential for anyone planning a career in physical therapy assisting today.

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