Physical Therapy Assistant Degree Programs

A physical therapy assistant degree is an essential part of preparation to enter this health care services career. Graduating from an accredited training program provides you with the skills and knowledge needed to work successfully as a PTA — and makes you eligible to sit the National Physical Therapy Exam as part of your application for licensure.

The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education currently lists some 276 accredited programs in its directory. These are available from schools all over the country — many of them community colleges specializing in two-year programs for allied health care services. Successful graduates emerge from this training with an Associate of Science (or Associate of Applied Science) degree. These rigorous programs are offered in a variety of formats, depending on the school, and integrate general education courses with the technical instruction and the hands-on practice required to be a successful physical therapist assistant.

If you’re thinking of taking one of these degree courses, it is advisable to do your research early. Not only do most schools have a cut- date for admissions before the beginning of a course, but they also list a series of pre-requisite conditions and qualifications that a candidate must satisfy in order to be eligible for admission. Entry to these programs is usually selective, and there may be considerable competition amongst applicants. For example, the University of Indianapolis recently reported that in 2010 it had 130 applicants for 27 places on its PTA program.

Getting Accepted Onto a Physical Therapy Assistant Degree Course

Physical Therapy Assistant Degree Programs

In order to be admitted to study one of these programs, an applicant would normally need first to be admitted to the school university — whether as a freshman, a transfer student, an adult student, or other category. And as entry to PTA programs is often a competitive process, admissions advisors will carefully examine areas such as the student’s previous high school or college record, including the cumulative grade point average, grades earned in any completed college level courses, testimonials and recommendations submitted, and other relevant factors.

Each school sets its own criteria for admissions, and places are normally limited, not just by class size but by the maximum numbers that can be accommodated in the clinical experience components of the program. Considerations such as the following may also play a part in the application process, or may be criteria which need to be satisfied before successful applicants can begin the course:

  • A period of paid employment or volunteer work experience with a licensed PT in one or more approved settings.
  • Satisfactory performance (e.g. grade C or better) in specified prerequisite courses such as algebra, biology, anatomy and physiology.
  • A passing score in the HOBET (Health Occupations Basic Entrance Test)
  • A physician’s statement verifying a satisfactory level of health for work in a clinical setting.
  • Clearance in the background criminal check and drug screening.
  • CPR certification.

PTA Degree Program Formats

Just as each school has its own selection criteria, so different colleges offer a variety of formats for PTA degree education. In many cases, a school offers one class a year beginning in the fall. Typically, the program will last five or six semesters, allowing students to graduate in just under two years. Students are often required to take the technical classes in sequence and in a specific semester.

But that’s not the only option. Some schools have introduced innovative formats which offer a choice between an integrated option which combines the general education classes and the physical therapist assistant education courses in each quarter or semester, or a sequential option where students complete some of the general education courses before they enter the PTA program itself. A few schools also offer the flexibility to study the lecture part of the program over the Internet, with lab classes offered at weekends. Clinical practicum sessions are, however, normally a fixed point. They are scheduled to take place at specific times and in specific locations during the program, and students have to attend these hands-on sessions in person, whatever the format of the rest of the program.

A Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Curriculum

The core professional training of a PTA degree will often begin with a general introduction to the profession, and the role that physical therapy plays in healthcare today. It’s important that the student learn the fundamental differences between the job of the PT and the assistant. Other courses will likely include areas such as:

  • Tests and Measures
  • Data Collection and Recording
  • Kinesiology/Functional Anatomy
  • Functional Activities
  • Pathophysiology
  • Therapeutic Exercise
  • Clinical Orthopaedics
  • Therapeutic Modalities
  • Therapeutic Procedures
  • Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation
  • Neuroscience for PTAs
  • Ethical and Administrative Issues
  • Professional Trends

Taking a physical therapy assistant degree can be the gateway to a great new career, offering a competitive salary, bright employment prospects, and rewarding job satisfaction. Make sure you investigate potential courses early enough to be able to attend the information/orientation sessions, get required observation experience, and complete other course requirements to be eligible for admission.

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