Physical therapy assistants, also known as PTAs, help physical therapists in rehabilitation settings for patients that require that kind of help. These patients usually include those that have suffered extreme injuries that have resulted in the loss of mobility or other serious injuries.
In the end, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education is responsible for recognizing two-year degree programs that will result in an individual becoming a PTA. The programs included in how to become a physical therapist assistant ensure that proper clinical practice takes place.
Parts of the programming may include anatomy and physiology as well as kinesiology in addition to other core subject areas like pathology. There are several other courses that would be required to become a PTA, too.
What Do Physical Therapy Assistants Do?
Physical therapy assistants are responsible for seeing that whatever is prescribed by the physical therapist is carried out for the patient. The PTA can also revise some of the directions by the physical therapist as long as it remains under the scope of expectations set forth by the physical therapist.
Occasionally, physical therapists also perform administrative functions like supervising physical therapy aides or tracking patient progress. The PTA always directly reports to the physical therapist and is under continuous evaluation.
What Education is Needed to Become a PTA?
Physical therapist assistant education requires two full years and graduation with either an Associates of Science or Associates of Applied Science degree. When thinking about the time commitment, that equates to about five semesters of college-level courses.
The semesters are split up to include both class time and clinical practice. The blending of both in-class and hands-on learning are designed to ensure that students learn as much as possible in the field of physical therapy.
Learning in the Classroom
Expect to study and then get tested regarding all sciences that are related to physical therapy. These sciences all involve the human body, its functional movements, and the way physical therapy is assessed and then applied.
You will go above and beyond learning basic health sciences to learning how to perform necessary therapeutic techniques to patients that cover a vast array of issues and illnesses. You do this by participating in a lab setting.
Labs allow you to practice applying what you’ve learned during your in-class lecture. By taking a more hands-on approach once you have the fundamental knowledge down, you can take the time to develop your skills.
Some of the classes you may encounter include basic math like College Algebra, medical terminology, disabilities and pathology, clinical discussion, and plenty of other courses. To get the most out of your education, you’re going to need to pay attention during both classes and labs. Be prepared to be studious during that time so you will be better off when your career takes flight.
Remember, there are only two years to complete this degree, so you’re going to need to be on point with everything you do. That means that each class is important and you have to try your best not to make any unnecessary mistakes for the sake of your future.
Beginning Clinical Training
The final part of your education takes place in the form of clinical training. You do this alongside your classroom lectures, and clinical education is the most critical part of your physical therapy education. There is a lot of time and work that is involved as you begin to transition from student to practicing physical therapist assistant.
When you undergo clinical training, you’re going to be practicing the skills you’ve learned in your classes in places like rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and other in-patient or out-patient facilities. You will have to work with a physical therapist or another clinical instructor, and that individual will be expected to give you feedback with the purpose of helping you improve.
Remember, programs are going to be different between programs and schools, so you’ll want to research what the requirements are for each one, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
How Do You Apply to PTA School?
You’ll need to make sure you have a few things taken care of to apply to a school in order to become a PTA. Here is a quick list of what you’ll need to help you understand how to become a physical therapist assistant by following the process to apply for school successfully.
- Test scores count for something, specifically the ACT as well as the SAT. If you took them in high school, they'd be on your transcript. Request a copy to have proof of your scores so that you can submit them with your application.
- You’ll need to have all official transcripts from any high schools or colleges you previously attended. The school you’re interested in attending will need these to create a plan to get you started and to verify you meet all requirements to enroll.
- Take note of your high school GPA if you’re applying right after high school graduation. Most schools have minimum required GPAs to be admitted to the school. Verify what yours is supposed to be before applying to make sure you have a chance at being admitted at all.
- Don’t leave anything blank on your application. If you don’t fill out your application, it can cause your application to be completely discarded and ignored.
- You may need to find references that can attest to your involvement with physical therapists or other PTAs. This can be in the form of professional references or documented volunteer hours showing how you have worked with individuals needing this type of assistance. These hours will need to be verified from any supervising PTs or PTAs.
How Do You Select the Right PTA Program?
When you go about selecting the school you want to attend, you need to make sure that the school you choose is accredited by CAPTE or the Commission on Accreditation in Physical therapy Education. It is the only accrediting organization for physical therapist and physical therapist assistants, so it is critical that you verify accreditation.
The only way you can be allowed to take the PTA licensing exam as administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, you will need to have graduated from a CAPTE accredited school. If not, you will not be able to be certified as a PTA.
CAPTE exists to keep a set of standards at high levels across the industry. By being accredited by CAPTE, you know that the coursework is going to be consistent between schools. The consistency means that all graduates will be given the same materials and undergo the same set of expectations.
You’ll also want to research the graduate rate for the school you’re interested in, as well as the ability to find a job after graduation. The success rate reflects the outcome of the program, so don’t neglect to ask around and read reviews.
Job Prospects and Earning Possibilities
If you were to check with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you'd see that they expect the number of jobs to increase for physical therapist assistants. Job prospects will be excellent as the Baby Boomer generation gets older and requires assistance.
Earnings for physical therapy assistants can be expected to be between $50k-$60k per year on average. In an entry-level position, you can expect around $30k and more experienced PTAs can earn as much as $73k annually.
A Few Last Words on How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant
The bottom line is that it is going to take hard work and dedication to make it happen. You’re going to have to set aside study time to do the best you can as you progress. It isn’t an easy job, but it is rewarding once you graduate.
Don’t pick the first school you see. Do your research to make sure you end up selecting the one that will propel you forward. Remember, it has to be accredited by CAPTE for you to be able to build your career.
One thing is for sure. If you spend the time wisely and take advantage of learning all you can while you’re in PTA school, your future will be much brighter for you.