Associates Degree in Physical Therapy: Program Overviews

To become a physical therapist, students must complete a master's degree program. However, students interested in becoming physical therapy assistants can enroll in an Associate of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program.

Essential Information

An Associate in Physical Therapy program prepares students for careers as physical therapist assistants (PTAs). These 2-year programs often include both classroom lectures and clinical experiences to help students gain the skills necessary to work with patients in a professional healthcare setting. Students entering physical therapist assistant associate's degree programs are expected to have completed advanced high school or introductory college-level courses in biology, chemistry and English.

Associate's Degree in Physical Therapy

Students learn human anatomy, medical terminology and healthcare science, before being instructed about the duties of a physical therapist assistant. Clinical experiences teach students how to communicate one-on-one with patients, perform under the supervision of physical therapists, administer basic therapeutic exercises and handle real-world problems that might arise in a hospital environment. This program typically includes four to five semesters, the beginning of the program examines theory and science and the second half consists of clinical and laboratory work. These courses often explore:

  • Health science laboratory
  • Human anatomy and kinesiology
  • Physical therapy fundamentals and modalities
  • Clinical physical therapy assistance
  • Disabilities procedures
  • Pathophysiology and musculoskeletal conditions

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2015, health practitioners, hospitals, nursing home facilities and other healthcare organizations employed roughly 81,230 physical therapist assistants in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reported a 41% increase in jobs for physical therapists' assistants during 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average when compared to other occupations. The median annual salary for physical therapist assistants was $55,170, and the top-paying states for the profession were Texas, California, and Alaska as of 2015 (www.bls.gov).

Certification and Continuing Education

The majority of states require that physical therapist assistants gain licensure by passing the National Physical Therapy Exam. To qualify for the exam, individuals must complete an associate's degree program in physical therapy accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. While physical therapist assistants cannot become physical therapists without earning a master's degree in the field, they can advance to administrative and teaching roles by working their way up through a physical therapy department.

An Associate in Physical Therapy program combines hands-on clinical experience with courses such as human anatomy, kinesiology and physical therapy modalities to prepare students for the fast-growing field of physical therapist assistants (PTAs). Licensure as a PTA is required in most states and includes graduating from an accredited associate's degree program as a prerequisite.

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