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Physical Therapy Tech Career Info and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a physical therapy (PT) tech. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and credentialing to find out if this is the career for you.

Physical therapy technicians work with physical therapists in places like hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes. Their responsibilities depend upon whether they are licensed or unlicensed, and whether they are physical therapy aides or physical therapy assistants.

Essential Information

Physical therapy technicians, also known as physical therapy aides and assistants, help with the physical rehabilitation of patients recovering from illness or injury. In general, physical therapy aides have less demanding duties compared to physical therapy assistants. While a high school diploma or equivalent and on-the-job training are usually sufficient for work as a physical therapy aide, work as a physical therapy assistant requires completion of a 2-year degree program and professional licensure.

Required Education PT aides: HS diploma or GED, on-the-job training;
PT assistants: associate's degree
Other Requirements PT assistants: licensure or certification on National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 39% for PT aides; 41% for PT assistants*
Median Salary (2015) $25,120 for PT aides; $55,170 for PT assistants*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information for Physical Therapy Technicians

Physical therapy technicians work under the supervision of licensed physical therapists. They may work in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities or rehabilitation centers. Depending on the employer, a physical therapy technician may be an unlicensed physical therapy aide who performs mainly clerical duties or a licensed physical therapy assistant (PTA) who provides patient care.

An unlicensed physical therapy technician assists in the therapy process by performing clerical duties, ordering supplies, updating patient records and answering phones. He or she may also keep the physical therapy areas cleaned and stocked, maintain equipment and bring patients to the therapy area.

A licensed physical therapy technician provides patient care by carrying out the instructions of a physical therapist. He or she may help patients perform exercises and provide therapeutic treatments, such as massage, ultrasound or electrical stimulation, that are intended to relieve pain, improve mobility and build strength. Licensed physical therapy technicians also help patients adjust to prosthetic devices and learn to use wheelchairs, crutches and walkers.

Salary and Career Forecast Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted job growth of 41% for physical therapy assistants and 39% growth for physical therapy aides during the 2014-2024 period (www.bls.gov). Demand is expected to rise as an aging population requires additional therapeutic and rehabilitative services. Employment opportunities are expected to be strongest for individuals seeking work in rural areas. In 2015, physical therapy aides earned a median annual salary of $25,120, while physical therapy assistants earned $55,170.

Education Requirements

The educational requirement for a physical therapy technician who will have no patient-care responsibilities is generally a high school diploma or GED. Many employers will provide on-the-job training for these positions.

In contrast, becoming a licensed physical therapy technician with patient-care responsibilities requires an associate degree earned through an accredited physical therapy assistant program. As of 2012, the BLS reported that there were 298 physical therapy assistant programs that were accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). CAPTE is affiliated with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Associate degree programs in physical therapy assisting generally take two years to complete.

Associate Degree Curriculum

Physical therapy assisting associate degree course topics typically include therapeutic exercises and equipment, orthotics and prosthetics, treatments for soft tissue injuries, functional rehabilitation, geriatric therapy, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and neurology. Associate degree programs usually include a clinical practicum, which consists of several semesters of lab work completed under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

Licensing and Certification Requirements

Before they can treat patients, physical therapy technicians who have graduated from an accredited associate degree program must obtain licensure or certification by passing the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and earning the regulatory designation of PTA. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy provides information about the exam and state licensing requirements (www. fsbpt.org). Basic cardiac life support (BCLS) or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification is also required for all physical therapy technicians.

The difference between physical therapy aides and assistants start at the education level. Physical therapy aides are not required to earn an degree beyond a high school diploma or its equivalent, while assistants are. This difference separates technicians who have patient responsibilities from those who do not. It also accounts for a significant difference in salary between the two job levels.

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