A 2-year associate's degree program in this discipline prepares students to enter the job market as physical therapist assistants. A 4-year pre-physical therapy bachelor's degree program offers more advanced coursework that prepares students to enter graduate study, which is required for licensure as a physical therapist. These programs include classroom learning along with significant laboratory training. Hands-on experience working with patients is also integrated into the curriculum, typically through clinical experiences and internships.
Both associate's and bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma or equivalent. Some schools may also require students to complete general education courses before being fully admitted.
Associate's Degree Programs in Physical Therapy
Students in physical therapy assistant Associate of Applied Science programs learn techniques such as hydrotherapy, traction, and massage to help alleviate the physical pain that patients experience. In addition to applying these physical therapy techniques, students gain hands-on experience in learning to help patients increase their mobility by using canes, wheelchairs, crutches, and other aids.
The professional or core courses will cover topics including:
- Musculoskeletal therapy
- Neuromuscular therapy
- Rehabilitation techniques
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Bachelor's Degree Programs in Pre-Physical Therapy
Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy programs provide coursework and training related to advanced theories and concepts in physical therapy, including disease prevention, health promotion, professional communication methods, and statistical analysis. Graduates will have learned how to work as part of a healthcare team and provide basic patient care.
Most courses in these programs are focused on scientific topics, such as the following:
- Athletic injury care
- Exercise physiology
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were around 81,230 physical therapy assistant jobs in 2015 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected 41% job growth in the field from 2014 to 2024. This rate is much faster than the average and is attributed to the growing needs of an aging population. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that physical therapy assistants took home a median annual income of $55,170.
Popular Career Options
Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy students may wish to begin working in the field while continuing their graduate education. Possible job options include:
- Physical therapy assistant
- Physical therapy aide
- Nurse aide
Continuing Education Information
Most students who earn a bachelor's degree in pre-physical therapy enroll in a physical therapy graduate program in order to become a physical therapist. According to the BLS, physical therapists are required to hold a graduate degree and meet state regulations, such as testing.
Aspiring physical therapy assistants can seek an associate's degree in the field, while pre-physical therapy bachelor's degrees provide students with a gateway to graduate programs and licensure as physical therapists. Physical therapy assistant positions have a very healthy projected job growth through the 2014-2024 decade.