Physical Therapy Assistant Training

Physical therapy assistant training begins at college with a two-year course leading to an Associate of Science degree. Over five semesters, students learn the theoretical principles of physical therapy assisting, and observe their practice and implementation in a series of clinical experiences. But training also remains an ongoing feature of this career — because in most states, evidence of continuing education is a requirement for maintaining licensure for professional practice.

PT Assisting — A Popular Profession

If you’re interested in training to be a PTA, you’ll be joining an increasingly large number of those attracted to a career in health care services. And with good reason — for it’s a profession which is expected to show faster than average growth in terms of demand for services and job opportunities over the next few years. Increased life expectancy, advancements in medical research, and more sophisticated treatments and procedures are all contributing to a need for therapeutic services which enhance the lives and well-being of many different sorts of patients.

The Basis of PTA Training

In some ways, it could be argued that training to be a physical therapist assistant begins in high school — for it is there that the foundations for success in higher education and professional life are laid. Proficiency in English, mathematics, sciences, fine arts, and humanities subjects are all important life skills, and form a background for a successful application onto any degree course.

Getting into a PTA Program

Physical Therapy Assistant Training

Admission to most PTA programs is through selective entry, and each college will have its own specific requirements. But it’s common for institutions to specify prerequisite courses and other criteria as eligibility for a program. Schools usually identify college-level courses that must have been completed to a certain level — for example, to grade B or C — and with a cumulative grade point average of around 2.75 on a 4.0 scale. These courses may include anatomy, physiology, biomedical terminology, maths/algebra, English composition, and others. Some schools may administer a placement test in reading and writing when a candidate comes to interview.

In certain circumstances, it may be possible to complete general education course requirements while taking the first year of the main PTA program. But there’s a risk that this may lead to study “overload”, and many schools prefer that those courses be completed before beginning the rest of the program.

Another requirement that is commonly found is a period of observation or volunteer work in a variety of physical therapy settings. Schools normally specify a minimum period of time spent in this activity — for example, 40 hours — and may require or recommend that it take place in more than one type of setting or facility. Some schools even require a recommendation letter from a licensed physical therapist or PTA who knows the applicant.

Colleges frequently offer orientation visits or information sessions, where prospective applicants can talk to faculty members, find out more about the course, visit the college campus, and generally voice their interest in a particular program. Some schools make attendance at such an event a precondition of applying. You can usually find out information about upcoming dates for these visits by visiting a school’s website.

Successful applicants are normally required to undergo a criminal background check, submit to drug testing, and provide a physician’s statement of their general physical fitness and suitability to undertake the tasks expected of a physical therapist assistant. Certification in life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation is also usually expected — for example, CPR-C — before embarking on the course, or sometimes before beginning the first clinical experience.

Physical Therapy Assistant Training Curriculum

A physical therapy assisting curriculum normally falls into a range of component courses which need to be taken in sequence and in a specific semester, depending on how the program is structured. Clinical experiences or practicums are usually incorporated into both years’ study, and these are full-time assignments scheduled during the day in facilities approved by the school.

Theoretical topic areas usually include the following:

  • An introduction to the practice of physical therapy
  • Testing and measuring — assessing patients in areas such as range of motion, strength, posture, motor function, balance and coordination, and others
  • Documentation Skills – recording data, patient progress, responses to treatment
  • Pathophysiology – the disturbance of body functions due to disease or other factors
  • Kinesiology – the study of human movement, bringing together areas such as biomechanics, neuroscience, anatomy and physiology
  • Therapeutic Modalities – the types of intervention for healing used in physical therapy
  • Therapeutic Exercise – to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles, improve breathing, cardiovascular functions, and other purposes
  • Neuromuscular Rehabilitation — assisting movement, pain management, etc
  • Orthopaedic Rehabilitation — to provide relief from joint pain and make physical activity more comfortable
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation — those recovering from heart conditions and surgery
  • Professional Issues – medical ethics, administration.

Finding an Accredited PTA Program

A final point about physical therapy assistant training: it’s very important to make sure that any program you consider is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Apart from helping to ensure that the quality of education delivered meets appropriate standards, graduation from an accredited program is one of the criteria for eligibility to sit the National Physical Therapy Exam when applying for a license. A list of currently accredited programs is available from the CAPTE website.

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