In physical therapy assisting associate's programs, aspiring PTAs learn essential patient care tasks. These tasks can include teaching patients specific exercises, or how to handle daily living activities independently. Hands-on practice is a critical component of these programs, which usually take 18-24 months to complete. Graduates are prepared to work under the supervision of physical therapists in a variety of settings, including rehabilitation centers, hospitals, geriatric centers and community agencies.
Applicants to these programs often must meet specific admissions requirements, which may include observation hours in a physical therapy setting. Students should look for programs accredited by Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
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Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Programs
Programs awarding an associate's degree in physical therapy assistance are available through community colleges. Such schools require a high school diploma or GED to gain admittance, often with grade point average requirements and satisfactory scores on college admissions examinations. Prerequisite courses may include biology, chemistry, physics and algebra. Some programs require applicants to spend time volunteering or observing in a rehabilitation facility prior to admission.
Students must complete a combination of didactic coursework, clinical training and a professional internship in order to graduate from the program. Course topics include the following:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Therapeutic exercise
- Physical agents
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
A dramatic increase in employment opportunities, at a rate of 41%, is expected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) between 2014 and 2024 for physical therapist assistants. This rapid projected growth is due to an increasing elderly population and attendant physical therapy needs. The average salary for a physical therapist assistant was $55,250 per year as of May 2015, according to data from the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Many states have a licensure or certification process for physical therapist assistants, and they often require graduation from an accredited program and completion of the National Physical Therapy Examination. Continuing education is usually necessary in order to maintain the appropriate credentials; requirements vary by state. Some physical therapist assistants specialize in a specific area, such as geriatrics or orthopedics.
Through a combination of coursework and hands-on training, those interested in becoming physical therapist assistants will learn about supporting physical therapists in a number of settings. Certification requirements vary according to state, but most require a degree from an accredited program and completion of a certification exam.