Physical Therapy Assistant Job Popularity Soars

Want to be a physical therapy assistant? Job opportunities are growing fast for this health care service career, and it seems as if training programs for PTA degrees have never been more popular. Medical schools and colleges are having to find new ways to cope with this surge of interest, and it means that competition for physical therapy assistant programs may soon become even more intense.

More Physical Therapy Assistant Job Openings Expected

Just recently, the Washington Post reported on the 20 fastest growing occupations in the country. Half of these are healthcare related, and it’s expected that physical therapy assistant job numbers will rise by 21,200 by the year 2018, making it the 17th fastest growing job.

There are several reasons why people are turning to health care for a career. New medical diagnoses, treatments, and procedures are being developed all the time, and the healthcare needs of a growing population need to be met, not only by practitioners such as physicians and surgeons, but also by services staff, from pharmacy technicians and phlebotomists, to physical therapy assistants, medical secretaries, and electronic healthcare records specialists.

Physical Therapy Assistant Job Popularity Soars

Furthermore, this is a population that is growing older. Not only is life expectancy increasing, so that one in five people alive today can expect to see their 100th birthday, but also there’s a demographic shift: the baby boom generation is reaching its retirement years, placing an even greater demand on medical care and therapeutic services.

Physical Therapy Assistant Degrees

A physical therapy assistant job requires specialist academic and technical training to associate’s degree level. This normally means two years of college training after high school, with additional requirements for credentialing according to the local state board of physical therapy, and a minimum amount of continuing education for a professional to renew their license or registration.

On the one hand, this means that someone wanting to enter healthcare as a PTA doesn’t have to take a four-year bachelor’s degree, let alone a Master’s degree or a doctorate. But on the other, this investment in specialist vocational education means that the pool of applicants for vacancies may be somewhat narrower than for those occupations where skills are acquired on the job.

These days, with more than 270 accredited programs available in schools and community colleges around the country, there’s no shortage of training courses for physical therapy assistants. But spots on these programs are already at a premium — and as the recession causes employment cutbacks in so many other areas, demand for places is likely to get even keener.

Salt Lake Community College Changes Its Admissions Policy

Take, for example, Salt Lake Community College in West Jordan, Utah, one of two schools offering accredited PTA programs in the state. In August 2011, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that SLCC intended to stop taking applications to the PTA and some other professional health programs, rather than extending waiting lists even further. It means the school has to re-evaluate its admissions process in the light of burgeoning interest in this type of career training.

It remains to be seen whether schools like SLCC with a large field of applications have to change their admissions criteria. It seems clear that the answer will not be simply to add extra classes to cope with the demand. There are practical limits on how many students can be accommodated, not just in the classroom, but also in the clinical experiences that are an integral part of training for a physical therapy assistant job.

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