Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

Physical therapy assistant programs are available around the country to train those who are interested in making a career in this field. It’s a profession with great employment prospects, and the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a much faster than average growth in the number of jobs available in healthcare as a whole in the years leading up to 2018.

Physical therapy assistants earn on average about twice as much as physical therapy aides, and there is likely to be less competition for jobs. One of the reasons for these factors is that assistants are normally required to have training at least to an associate degree level, while many physical therapist aides acquire their skills through practical experience on the job.

An Associate Degree In Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

An associate degree leading to a job as an assistant to a physical therapist will likely take about five semesters of full-time study at an accredited institution — that’s about two years. And while it may be possible to complete some of the academic parts of the training online, about 25% of a course will be composed of real-world clinical practice. Furthermore, after completing training, it will be necessary to become licensed according to the criteria specified by the state in which you intend to practice.

Admission Criteria

There are currently around 250 accredited physical therapy assistant programs in the United States, so it should be possible to find a course in or near most major population centers. Most schools will consider applicants who are have completed high school (or its equivalent) or are already attending college, although different selection criteria will be applied according to the individual institution. Whether at high school or college, candidates should expect to submit a transcript showing class grades. Some schools will also look for a significant period of volunteer or work experience in physical therapy as evidence of a student’s commitment.

While schools will look for a generally sound academic record in candidates, many will pay particular attention to grades achieved in biology, chemistry or physics, and mathematics. Given that professionals in the field need to have very good communication skills, attention may also be paid to standards in English language, English literature, and liberal arts subjects such as public speaking. Other criteria from a transcript may also be considered relevant, after which some colleges will allot places on a first-come first-served basis.

Physical Therapy Assistant Program Content

Program content will be organized according to the specific course program, but is likely to include aspects such as

  • General introduction
  • Healthcare terminology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Law and ethics and other professional issues in healthcare
  • Kinesiology and its role in rehabilitation
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Musculoskeletal and neuromuscular physical therapy
  • Pathophysiology
  • Clinical internship

Even if students take an online course, they will likely be expected to attend campus for the lab portion of their classes — and of course, they still need to complete the clinical externship aspect of their training.

Selecting the Program That Is Right for You

Before enrolling in a program, it is vital to research course requirements and content, and to make sure that the program/school has been granted accreditation. In the United States, PTA programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), who can supply further information on general accreditation criteria.

Another feature to investigate when deciding between physical therapy assistant programs is the pass rate of graduates in the state licensing examination, and the number or percentage of graduates who find employment in their chosen field within six months or a year of completing the course. Look for contact information of faculty advisors who can give you further details on these and any other questions you may have.