Why Should You Train At A Physical Therapy Assistant School?

Physical therapy assistant school admissions staff report that there is considerable competition for places in their programs. For example, in 2010 the University of Indianapolis received 130 applications for just 27 places. Why is a spot in a PTA training program so highly sought after — and what makes physical therapy assisting such a popular career? We look at some of the attractions of this job, and some of the best ways to break into the profession.

Job Prospects for Physical Therapy Assistants

You don’t have to look very far to find one of the most compelling reasons why so many people are considering a career in health care services: great employment prospects. At a time when job security in many professions is precarious, when budgets are being cut, and when so many recruiters seem cautious about taking on new hires, a profession which shows significant growth is bound to attract interest.

As an important sector in the healthcare market, PTAs can look to very good job potential. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 35% growth in employment for physical therapist assistants and aides in the decade between 2008 and 2018. This growth can be ascribed to a variety of factors, not least of which is the increase in life expectancy of the population. It’s been predicted that 20% of people alive today will live to see their 100th birthday. Add to that the demographic shift that comes from the so-called “baby boomer” generation reaching retirement age, and you have a population with an increasingly large proportion of the elderly.

Physical Therapy Assisting Is an Important Healthcare Role

Why Should You Train At A Physical Therapy Assistant School?

Physical therapy is about promoting wellness and improving the quality of life through prevention and promotion strategies, as well as helping people improve their mobility in the wake of disability, illness, accidents or other major events. The maintenance of a healthy lifestyle is a major part of public health policy, and PTs have a very important role to play in helping people remain physically fit. And as people enter their senior years, it’s likely that they will increasingly require these kinds of therapeutic services to help them stay functionally active.

Increased pressure on health care services to respond to the demands of a growing elderly population also places focus on the partnership between physical therapists and their assistants. As part of a drive to deliver quality care with greater efficiency, PTAs help to implement aspects of the treatment plan that their supervising PT has prescribed, and may be responsible for administering a variety of hands-on treatments on a regular basis — for example, helping patients with gait and balance issues, instructing them in a variety of therapeutic exercises, or giving treatments such as ultrasound, traction, or moist heat.

These are just some of the reasons why being a PT assistant attracts so many entrants to the profession. But how do you become a practising PTA — and sort of training is required?

PTA Training Programs

These days, the route into physical therapy assisting is almost always via an Associate’s degree program from a community college or university. Program formats vary between schools, but most take about two years to complete. This is a very different educational path from that followed by physical therapists, who need to go to grad school for a Masters degree or doctorate. After getting their Associate of Science degree, PTAs need to be credentialed in order to work in most states. Specific requirements for credentialing vary between state jurisdictions, but candidates often need to achieve a passing score in the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) set by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). This is a 200 question test in multiple-choice format that lasts 4 hours.

If you’re thinking of going to school to become a physical therapy assistant, you will need to satisfy the admission requirements of your chosen college. There is usually a requirement to complete a substantial period of observation or work experience in one or more approved settings, and passing scores in general education classes and associated medical courses may also be specified. In some schools, the general education classes are integrated with the first year of the technical physical therapy component. In others, applicants are expected to have completed the pre-requisite general courses before applying to the PTA program proper.

All accredited PTA programs include a range of clinical experiences in actual physical therapy settings. Theory classes include topics such as kinesiology, functional anatomy, cardiopulmonary, integumentary, neuromuscular, and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, pathophysiology, therapeutic exercise, and the use of physical agents. Other professional issues are also introduced at appropriate stages of the program. Accreditation is carried out by CAPTE (the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education).

Training through an accredited program at a physical therapy assistant school is rigorous and demanding — but it’s preparation for a fulfilling career and a sound investment in the professional future of someone who wants to be a technically trained member of this kind of healthcare team.

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