Online Physical Therapist Assistant Certification and Certificate Info

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) help physical therapists treat patients with disabilities and injuries. PTA certificate programs are rarely offered because an associate's degree is required by state law in most of the United States. PTA associate's degree programs, which may be completed partially online, prepare participants for work in the field and to take the national PTA licensing exam. Depending on the state in which they work, PTAs may need a license, certification or registration.

Essential Information

Due to the hands-on nature of physical therapy assisting, partially-online associate's degree programs are available, although fully-online programs are not. In addition to online classes, these programs include lab and clinical requirements, which are completed on campus. Entrance into these programs requires students to have a background in biology and mathematics and a criminal background check is required prior to the completion of the clinical portion of the program. The American Physical Therapy Association offers certification, which may be required depending on your state.

Overview of an Online Physical Therapist Assistant Associate's Degree Program

PTA associate's degree programs can be offered partially online, with an on-campus clinical requirement. Participants learn to work with physical therapists to measure and assess mobility issues, develop a treatment plan, communicate with patients and report results of treatment to other health care professionals. These programs often lead to an Associate in Applied Science and also qualify participants for the national PTA licensing examination. Although some states require PTAs to be certified or registered instead of licensed, the exam is a common requirement for those credentials as well.

Prerequisite courses typically include basic biology, reading, English and mathematics, and programs may require placement testing in these subjects. Some programs also require volunteer hours in the field before starting courses in the physical therapy concentration.

Program Information and Requirements

PTA programs take approximately two years and 68 credit hours of studies to complete. Although much of the coursework can be completed online, clinical hours in approved health care settings are also a required portion of these programs. A criminal and background check is normally required before students may participate in the clinical internship or fieldwork.

Registering, ordering class materials and accessing course plans is done via the Internet. Some schools use specific programs, like Blackboard or ANGEL, to manage the online courses.

List of Common Courses

Coursework in these PTA programs include subjects of anatomy, physiology, exercise and kinesiology. Some schools require biology coursework with a minimum grade achievement before beginning PTA studies. Online offerings vary by school and depend upon any lab or clinical in-person components.

Principles of Physical Therapy Course

This course introduces patient care and relationships, the impacts of illness and injury, PTA roles, communication skills and health care delivery in physical therapy. The history of physical therapy is also a concentration, and students learn various treatment skills.

Physiology and Anatomy Course

Human body function is studied in this class through topics such as cell structure, tissues, muscle anatomy and the skeletal, digestive, respiratory, reproductive and nervous systems. Labwork is a normal portion of this hybrid course to enhance learning through specimen examination and finding solutions to problems.

Kinesiology Course

This class examines human movement and how it relates to exercise, muscle dysfunction and overall body systems. Testing and analysis of movement is also a concentration of this course.

Therapeutic Exercise Course

Students in this course study current exercise techniques and equipment used in physical therapy treatment. The class, which may include a clinical component, focuses on different techniques used to improve flexibility, strength, posture and endurance in people with various conditions, injuries and disabilities.

Career Information for Graduates

Physical therapist assistants earned a median annual wage of $52,160 as of May 2012, according to the BLS. Employment in the field was expected to grow by 46%, much faster than the average for all occupations, between 2010-2020, heavily due to increased need and access to physical therapy services and reimbursement (

Continuing Education Information

Physical therapist assistants can advance by gaining experience in clinical areas such as geriatric or pediatric physical therapy, as well as administrative roles as program directors or administrators. The American Physical Therapy Association offers recognition of advanced proficiency to those PTAs who meet the requirements, which include evidence of leadership and community involvement related to physical therapy, five years of specific work experience, minimum performance levels with a verifiable letter of reference and current membership in the association.

PTAs also have options in undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degree programs in physical therapy through various accredited schools. However, it's important to note that a PTA cannot simply advance to a physical therapy program; the two training progressions are different, and a PTA wanting to become a full physical therapist would need to start his or her education anew.

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