How to become a physical therapist assistant

Physical therapist assistants help people recover from surgery, illness or injury.If you have an interest in physical therapy and want to begin working in the field as soon as possible, perhaps you should consider a career as a physical therapist assistant. Like physical therapists, they have the opportunity to help people recovering from a significant illness or injury. However, physical therapist assistants don’t have to complete nearly as much education, which means they can begin their careers much sooner after graduating from high school.

What does a physical therapist assistant do?

Physical therapist assistants work under the direct supervision of licensed physical therapists to help patients regain their range of motion and manage pain when recovering from illness, injury or surgery. They may help patients perform exercises, observe their progress, and educate both patients and their family members about what to do after treatment to continue the recovery process at home. Physical therapist assistants also record patients’ responses to various treatments and report the results to the physical therapist.1

What type of education do I need?

In order to become a physical therapist assistant, you will need to earn an associate degree from a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).2 It will likely take five semesters or two years to earn your degree, and your program should include general education, physical therapy courses and clinical education.Requirements for licensure and/or certification of physical therapist assistants vary from state to state. However, most regulatory boards require physical therapist assistants to attend an accredited program, earn an associate degree and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). The licensure exam is administered via computer and consists of four sections. In addition, some states require physical therapist assistants to pass a licensure law exam before they can seek employment. 4

What other skills should I possess?

It is important that physical therapist assistants have great interpersonal and communication skills, as they spend the vast majority of their time interacting directly with patients. Because the people they are working with are in the midst of the recovery process, they will also need to show compassion. Physical therapist assistants use methods such as massage, gait and balance training to help patients, so they must be comfortable using their hands to help patients complete therapeutic exercises.5

How is the employment outlook?

The employment outlook for physical therapist assistants is exceptionally bright – the occupation is expected to grow by 45 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is 31 percent faster than average. The median annual wage of physical therapist assistants is approximately $50,000.6

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘What Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides Do,’ March 29, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm#tab-2
2 Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, ‘Accredited Physical Therapist Assistant Programs,’ 2013 – http://www.capteonline.org/apta/directories/accreditedschools.aspx?navID=10737421958&site=capte
3 American Physical Therapy Association, ‘Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Education Overview,’ March 28, 2013 – http://www.apta.org/PTAEducation/Overview/
4 American Physical Therapy Association, ‘Licensure,’ July 21, 2013 – http://www.apta.org/licensure/
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide,’ March 29, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm#tab-4
6 Bureau of Labor Statistics, ‘Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides,’ March 29, 2012 – http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm#tab-1

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