How Do I Become a Physical Therapy Assistant?

Individuals who want careers where they can provide physical therapy services to patients without spending years in college often ask the question, “How do I become a physical therapy assistant?”. The good news is that this career is possible by completing a two-year physical therapy assistant program. Here is an overview of how to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) and what to expect in terms of career outlook.

What PTAs Do?

PTAs work under the supervision of licensed physical therapists and help them provide physical therapy services to patients with injuries or illnesses that limit or restrict their ability to move normally and perform their daily functions. The help patients train to use walking aides; teach them mobility and strengthening exercises and educate family members on how to care for the patient at home. They also perform massages, observe patients before, during and after therapy, and help the patient with pain management. Physical therapy assistants work in outpatient clinics, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, extended care facilities, research centers and sports training facilities.

Education Requirements

To become a physical therapy assistant requires completing an associate degree from an accredited physical therapy assistant program. These two-year programs generally take five semesters to complete. Students complete a curriculum that includes medical courses, lab studies and clinical education. The American Physical Therapy Association states that didactic courses (classroom and lab studies) make up about 75% of the curriculum with the clinical portion making up the remaining 25%. Students usually spend about 16 weeks in clinical education, which usually comes in the way of an internship working under a licensed physical therapist.

PTA course topics include anatomy & physiology; ethics and values; exercise physiology; clinical pathology; kinesiology; communication; biomechanics; neuroscience and behavioral sciences. Physical therapy assistants usually also obtain certifications in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and basic life support. Aspiring PTAs should look for programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. There are about 350 CAPTE-accredited PTA programs as of 2017.

Certification/Licensure Requirements

Physical therapy assistants are required to be certified or licensed in all the states. The licensing requirements may vary from state to state, but it usually requires completing the associate degree PTA program and passing the physical therapy assistant certification exam, which is offered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Depending on the state, candidates may be required to pass a state exam as well and pass a criminal background check. Physical therapy assistants must complete continuing education to maintain their certification.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predict that PTAs should see excellent job growth during the 2016-2026 decade. These professionals should see a 31% job growth, which should result in about 27,400 new PTA jobs by 2026. As of May 2017, physical therapy assistants earned annual wages ranging from $34,640 to $79,040 with the average yearly wage at $56,850. The five top-paying states for physical therapy assistants are Texas, New Jersey, California, Florida and Connecticut.

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Working as a physical therapy assistant allows individuals to not only work in a field with excellent job opportunities and good pay but also to play an important part in helping patients improve their quality of life. Upon learning how to become a physical therapy assistant, many candidates choose the rewarding career.