Physical Therapy Assistant Certification

Physical therapy assistant certification is often used as an alternative term to describe getting a license to practice as a physical therapist assistant. Some people also use the term “certification” when referring to professional training — as in “gaining a certificate.” It’s important to be clear about the differences between these meanings, and to understand the standards and regulations that govern licensure for PTAs.

What’s The Difference Between Certification and Licensure?

Physical therapy assistants need a current licence (sometimes called certification) to practice in almost every state in the US. In order to ensure public safety and competence of physical therapists and their assistants, the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy has established a range of standards, laws and systems to assess the proficiency of practitioners. The FSBPT administers the National Physical Therapy Examination for PTs and PTAs, and each state licensing board has its own criteria to establish who is eligible to sit this test. You do not, however, have to take the exam in the specific state in which you wish to practice.

Physical Therapy Assistant Certification

The FSBPT will be alerted by the licensing authority of a candidate’s eligibility to take the test, and then sends the candidate an authorization letter confirming the eligibility period, which is normally 60 days. The candidate must then make an appointment to take the test within that time, and they may cancel or reschedule if necessary (although if it is less than 30 days before the exam date, a fee may be charged.)

Physical Therapy Assistant Training

Some people use the term “certification” to mean “training”, and in this sense the word is something of a misnomer. Aspiring physical therapy assistants must take an accredited training program leading to an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree, normally lasting five or six semesters, or about two years. Diploma or certificate programs may be available to train as a physical therapy aide – NOT an assistant.

There are some important differences between PT assistants and aides. For example, aides are not normally required to hold a licence, and do not have to hold an associate’s degree. They therefore do not perform the same clinical tasks as assistants, and may be involved in more administrative responsibilities such as answering the phone, dealing with paperwork, ordering supplies and other clerical duties. PT assistants work under the direction of a supervising physical therapist, offering instruction, help with exercise, and a variety of therapeutic treatments that have been prescribed by the PT. They also spend some time documenting patient progress, recording patient outcomes, and reporting back to the physical therapist.

Salary surveys show that while physical therapist aides earned on average around $25,000 per annum, assistance can expect a median annual wage of around $50,000 — a significant difference, taking into account the differences in their responsibilities and training requirements.

Physical Therapy Assistant Licensure

While individual state regulations may vary, the norm is that PTAs are only eligible to sit the NPTE and apply for licensure if they have graduated from an accredited two-year program. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is the only agency recognized by the Department of Education to confer accreditation status on entry-level programs for physical therapy assistants. There are currently more than 250 such programs available in the US, and successful graduation from one of these schools is thus a prerequisite for a career as a PTA.

Employment prospects in healthcare services look very promising, and jobs are expected to rise much faster than average over the next few years as the baby boomer generation moves towards retirement, as life expectancy increases, and as demographic trends show an increasing proportion of the elderly in the population. Medical advances and scientific discoveries are widening the scope for many different treatments, and these developments are encouraging school leavers and those interested in a career change to investigate the possibility for physical therapy assistant certification. It’s important to understand what this means in terms of training options and state regulations, in order to make the best choices for this healthcare career.

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