Physical Therapist Assistant Schools

Physical therapist assistant schools offer training in the academic knowledge and the clinical skills required for a career as a PT assistant. There are currently over 250 programs in the US providing this kind of training, leading to a degree as an Associate of Applied Science.

In order for a physical therapy assistant to practice, it’s usually necessary to gain licensure from the state in which the individual wishes to work. While schools and colleges train their students to enter the profession, the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) itself is administered separately by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy for the purposes of licensure. It may also be necessary to show evidence of continuing education to maintain the licence once it has been gained. Individual state regulations may vary, and it is advisable to check with your local state licensing board to find out specific requirements.

Physical Therapist Assistant Schools

PTAs normally train over two years to achieve their associate degree, which needs to be earned from an accredited program. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is the agency recognized nationally by the US Department of Education to grant specialised accreditation status for entry level programs for physical therapy assistants and physical therapists.

One of the first things that a prospective student should do, therefore, is to verify the accreditation status of individual programs when checking out schools and colleges. While it may be possible to undertake part of PTA training program online, the parts of a course that involve clinical rotations, laboratory work and practical experience cannot be completed by distance learning. For that reason, CAPTE does not accredit programs that are offered exclusively online.

Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

The majority of physical therapist assistant programs last for five semesters, requiring approximately 70 credit hours and incorporating general education components such as written and oral communication, physical and life sciences, mathematics, humanities / fine arts, and social / behavioral sciences. The career specific courses will include topics such as Kinesiology, Physical Therapy Modalities and Procedures, Pathophysiology, Therapeutic Modalities and Exercise, Neuromuscular and Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Orthopaedic Rehabilitation, Human Anatomy and Physiology, Legal, Ethical, and Other Professional Issues. There will also be a number of clinical practicum sessions in both years of the course.

While some schools may allow flexibility of scheduling to accommodate students who need to work at a job during their study, it’s normally essential to take the physical therapy components of the course in the prescribed order and during a specific semester. Some schools do not recommend that students work full-time, as they may advise them to devote 30+ hours per week for the preparation of lectures, clinical experiences, and other assignments.

Admission to Physical Therapist Assistant Schools

Different schools apply different criteria to their admissions procedures, but there is usually a competitive selection process to fill available places. Selection boards may take into account an applicant’s overall grade point average, previous volunteer work in a physical therapy setting, performance in selection examinations, and the quality of a written sample to be provided at the time of an interview. Some schools make it a pre-requisite that an applicant has completed 40 or more hours of volunteer work experience in one or more approved physical therapy facilities, not counting home health settings.

Some schools schedule a range of information sessions to give prospective students a better idea of what the program requirements and course content involve. It’s a good idea to do research early so as to have sufficient time to investigate program possibilities and complete documentation and other formalities before the admission cut off date.

Before beginning their training, students are usually asked to submit a current physical examination record, submit to drug testing and a criminal background check, and may also be required to gain certification in an approved CPR program.

Student Performance During a PTA Program

Acceptance into a physical therapist assistant school does not in itself guarantee successful completion of the program. Participants will usually be expected to maintain a minimum standard of performance, for example reaching at least grade C in each course component.

If you are interested in a selection of specific programs, there is usually a dedicated page on the website of physical therapist assistant schools listing contact numbers and e-mail addresses of faculty members who may be able to give you information and advice. You may also be able to find statistics for recent years, showing the percentage of program graduates who pass the state licensure examination and the percentage who are employed in some physical therapy role six months to a year after leaving school.