Physical therapy assistant, or PTA, programs are available in a hybrid format that allows some coursework to be completed online. Meanwhile, clinical experiences must be completed in person. Physical therapy assistants typically need an associate's degree from an accredited physical therapy assisting program and, in most states, must also be licensed.
PTA Degree Program
The physical therapist assistant associate's degree program teaches students how to assist physical therapists in treating patients who have been in an accident or living with disabling conditions, such as arthritis or cerebral palsy. Prerequisites include general education courses in English, biology and math before entering the program. Interviews and placement testing may also be required for entry consideration. Graduates are awarded an Associate in Science degree and are qualified to sit for the National PTA licensing examination.
Information & Requirements
|Program Levels||Associate degree|
|Field(s) of Study||Physical therapy assistant program|
|Prerequisites||Courses in English, biology and math; interview and placement testing may also be required|
|In-Person Requirements||Clinical practicum, CPR certification|
|Licensure/Certification||Licensure required in all states; voluntary certification available|
|Job Outlook (2014-2024)||40% growth|
|Median Annual Salary (2015)||$54,170|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Although much of these programs can be completed online, all require an in-person clinical practicum to meet state requirements. Online PTA programs take approximately two years to complete. In-person clinical work takes place within an approved health care setting, and students are also required to earn certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Online course delivery, communication with peers and assignments are all done virtually via the Internet, e-mail or other school-specific web-based system.
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Online coursework offers students the knowledge and skills necessary to practice in the field and prepares them for clinical work. Course topics include anatomy, science and exercise.
Pathology: PTA roles in treating conditions related to pathology are the concentration of this class. Students learn about current treatments and interventions related to genitourinary, gastrointestinal, circulatory, musculoskeletal and respiratory systems.
Physiology: This course covers the processes of physiology and emphasizes the structures and functions of the body. Some of the other topics covered include cell structure, tissue, skeletal system, nervous system and all human body functions.
Kinesiology: Kinesiology is the study of human movement and teaches students about the functions of the muscles in the body. Assessment topics include manual muscle testing, gait analysis and joint measurement.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapy assistants earned a median annual wage of $54,170 as of May 2015. The highest level of employment in the industry was in offices of health practitioners, and the highest annual wages were in home health care services. Employment for PTAs is projected to increase by 40%, much faster than the average for all occupations, from 2014 to 2024.
Continuing Education Information
Physical therapy assistants desiring to further their education can pursue bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in physical therapy. PTAs can also continue their education or gain recognition of enhanced proficiency through the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) by meeting specific guidelines.
Those seeking to becoming physical therapy assistants should seek an Associate of Science degree. They'll study physiology, pathology and kinesiology. The median salary is $54,170 as of May 2015. The outlook for this career is very good: a 40% increase between 2014 and 2024.