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Physical Therapy Certification and Certificate Programs

Physical therapy certificate programs are available to those interested in entry-level positions as physical therapy aides. Licensed physical therapists can also pursue first-professional certificates in specific fields.

Essential Information

While physical therapy aides don't typically need to complete a post-secondary program in order to work in the field, certificate programs are available. These programs often require a GED or high school diploma. Graduates may go on to earn associate's degrees in physical therapy assisting, which can prepare them for licensure as physical therapy assistants.

Professional physical therapists who hold a master's or doctoral degree in the field can pursue specialized certificates. Applicants may need to complete prerequisite coursework in their specialty prior to enrollment.


Undergraduate Physical Therapy Aide Certificate

Physical therapy (PT) aides assist physical therapists by transporting the patients to treatment, organizing supplies and maintaining equipment, as well as providing limited assistance during actual treatment sessions. Many employers provide on-the-job training for physical therapy aides, but those who seek certification will take classes with an emphasis on theory and hands-on skills. Specific coursework includes:

  • Medical office procedures
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Kinesiology
  • Anatomy
  • Billing and coding

First-Professional Physical Therapy Certificates

There are a number of institutions that offer programs leading to a certificate in one or more of the eight areas of physical therapy specialization, including geriatrics, pediatrics, women's health, neurology and orthopedics. The programs serve to prepare the individual to sit for a specialty certification exam.

Depending on the institution, programs may be pursued part-time or full-time, and they vary in length from 1-3 years. An undergraduate degree in a related area and/or a master's or doctorate in physical therapy is required for admission into these certificate programs.

Certificate of Specialization in Geriatric Physical Therapy

Generally focused on the older adult, a certificate program in geriatric physical therapy concentrates on conditions resulting from afflictions such as hip and joint replacement, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and cancer. Emphasis is placed on the restoration of mobility, reduced pain and a general increase in fitness levels.

Case studies are used and interspersed with didactic and clinical instruction to investigate various aspects of care for older adults. Course topics often include:

  • Psychological aspects of aging
  • Biological aspects of aging
  • Pharmacology and physical therapy
  • Nutrition
  • Neuromuscular physical therapy skills
  • Interventions for geriatric disorders

Certificate of Specialization in Neurological Physical Therapy

This specialization certificate program concentrates on the problems of individuals who have a neurological disorder or disease, such as Parkinson's disease, stroke, a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. Neurological physical therapists deal with resulting dysfunctions that can include lack of or diminished motor skills, paralysis, imbalance or the general loss of the ability to function independently.

The coursework in this program concentrates on developing knowledge and certain skills that enable the physical therapist to assist patients who essentially have to re-learn cognitive and physical activities. Classes in neurological physical therapy include:

  • Motor control
  • Motor learning
  • Examining neurological dysfunction
  • Neurorehabilitation by way of intervention
  • Geriatric neurology

Certificate of Specialization in Pediatric Physical Therapy

Using a variety of techniques and modalities, pediatric physical therapy certificate programs address the early detection and treatment of health problems in infants, children and adolescents. Children with congenital disorders or diseases, delayed development and those with acquired disorders, injuries or diseases are the focus of this specialization.

The coursework stresses techniques in the development and restoration of muscular function and mobility in the pediatric population. Gross and fine motor skills, as well as strength and endurance are emphasized and integrated with the sensory processes of the afflicted individual. Classes include:

  • Alternative treatments and treatment venues
  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Adaptive techniques in pediatrics
  • Pediatric rehabilitation
  • Embryology
  • Therapeutic management of children with disabilities

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), job options for physical therapy aides are anticipated to increase by 39% in the period from 2014-2024. In 2015, the median annual salary for physical therapy aides was $25,120.

From 2014 to 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that job openings for physical therapists will increase 34%. The median annual salary, nationwide, for the profession in 2015 was $84,020.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

By earning an associate's degree in physical therapy, PT aides can advance to become physical therapy assistants. According to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, there were almost 300 accredited PT assistant programs at colleges, community colleges and technical schools in the United States as of 2012.

Although licensure is not required for physical therapy aides, physical therapy assistants are required to take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for physical therapy assistants in order to practice. Some states require an additional state-administered license or registration examination. Certification in CPR and first aid is also often required.

All physical therapists must, in order to practice, graduate from an accredited program and sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination for physical therapists. Licensure is generally renewable every two years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many states require a certain number of continuing education credits as part of the renewal process.

In order to qualify to sit for physical therapy specialty certification exams, applicants must have a current license to practice physical therapy and a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in their specialty, including 500 hours within the previous three years. In some cases, applicants must be certified in CPR and emergency care.

Physical therapy certification can be valuable for aspiring physical therapy aides, as well as physical therapists, looking to specialize in certain areas of the field. Both of these careers are projected to grow by a good amount in the next ten years.

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