Physical Therapist Assistant Schools

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What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

The role of physical therapist assistant (PTA) is to aid physical therapists in the care and treatment of patients. Individuals working as physical therapist assistants will work to provide clerical and physical aid to qualified physical therapists under their direct supervision, the assistant will help exercise, stimulate, instruct, massage and assist patients.  PTA's are also responsible for recording and reporting the results of treatments to the physical therapist.  Physical therapy assistants help in the daily operations of a practice, provide standard care, and educate patients in regiments and exercises.

Top Physical Therapy Assistant Degrees & Certificates

If you are considering a career as physical therapy assistant, it is important to know your options to enter the field.  Every state currently requires a physical therapy assistant to have an associate’s degree and in some cases a professional certificate coupled with substantive life experience.  Physical therapy assistant programs must be earned from a regionally or nationally accredited college or university.  A quick overview of each is listed below to help you better perform research into the profession.

Physical Therapy Assistant Certificates

Earning a certificate as a Physical Therapy Assistant will provide students with the basics necessary to enter the field of physical therapy.  Certificate programs are focused, compressed programs designed to give students the essentials in the physical therapy sector.  Rigor and challenging courses are hyper-focused on providing essential skills.  These PTA skills are intended to be directly utilized in the workplace.

Physical Therapy Assistant Associate's Degree

An Associate’s in Applied Science (AAS) degree for a physical therapy assistant will prepare students to enter the field with skills and knowledge of a core physical therapy curriculum plus an array of liberal arts classes.

The general education courses like philosophy, English, and psychology are incorporated into the associate degree programs to help students think differently about the world and analyze situations in greater depth.  Core curriculum in physical therapy provide science-rich classes requisite to thrive in the field of physical therapy coupled with supervised hands-on, clinical experience.

Difference Between Physical Therapy Assistants and Physical Therapy Aides?

The difference between a physical therapy aid and physical therapy assistant comes down to the amount of training, pay, and job responsibilities.  To become a physical therapy aide, a person will need a high school diploma or GED and obtain the balance of what they need to know through on the job training over the course of weeks or months.

On the other hand, a physical therapy assistant must earn a college degree or certificate of completion from an accredited college.  The degree program includes substantive real-world work in the field under the direct supervision of a licensed physical therapist known as clinical experience.

Physical Therapist Assistant Requirements

Most states require a physical therapist assistant to have a minimum of an associate's degree through a nationally accredited program in order to work in a professional setting. Nationally accredited programs typically last 2 years and provide students with a variety of courses and skills necessary to perform their functions and tasks ably.

Students of such a program will be exposed to various sciences that related to the human body, and be educated in the types of ailments that may affect individuals in recovery. Programs contain both academic and clinical coursework in order to develop one's practical experience and allow them to apply classroom knowledge to real world settings.

Clinical settings allow students to understand how treatments are applied and under what conditions. Exposure to individuals and situations will allow students to develop proper bedside manner, learn to develop patient confidence, and to apply treatments and offer assistance as outlined by one's instructor or physical therapist. The amount of clinical work will depend on the program of study.

What Will I Learn in a Physical Therapist Assistant Program?

While the classes from one accredited program to another will vary, you will find that many physical therapy assistant programs have similar coursework.  After researching dozens of college programs, we have created a list of classes common to most programs.  The classes listed below can be used as a proxy for most accredited PTA degree programs.

  • Anatomy
  • Patient Care Skills
  • First Aid
  • Therapeutic Interaction in Health Care
  • Human Growth & Development
  • Pathophysiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Human Posture & Movement
  • Therapeutic Exercise
  • Acute Care in Physical Therapy
  • Rehabilitation
  • CPR
  • Orthopedic Therapy
  • Clinical Practicum

Employment for a Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapist assistants can find work in outpatient clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, fitness centers, and other locations that offer physical therapy. Most patients will either be elderly or in recovery from accident or surgery.

The role of a physical therapist assistant is to provide service to patients as guided by a physical therapist, often conducting routine work under the guidance or supervision of a physical therapist.

The various work environments will all require a physical therapist for an assistant to work under, and the amount of responsibilities, supervised and unsupervised, are generally dictated by the state.

Where to Physical Therapy Assistants Work?

A physical therapy assistant will be employed in a wide array of medical and healthcare organizations.  Entities are not limited in size nor scope as PTA's can work at private clinics, public hospitals, and non-profit healthcare organizations.  Examples of where a PTA can work include: sports clinics, rehabilitation centers, athletic facilities, hospitals, pediatric centers, medical centers, home health centers, outpatient clinics, public schools, medical offices, community health organizations, skilled nursing facilities, long-term care centers, and convalescent homes.

Common Job Titles of a Physical Therapy Assistant

While the job title of a physical therapy assistant or PTA is the most commonly used title across the industry, a few variations on the name exist.  In order to best equip you for the job market, we have assembled a number of related job titles of a physical therapy assistant for your review.  The most common job titles of a physical therapy assistant include the following:

  • Certified Physical Therapist Assistant (CPTA)
  • Physical Therapy Technician (Physical Therapy Tech or PTT)
  • Staff Physical Therapy Assistant
  • Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)
  • Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant (LPTA)
  • Outpatient Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Physical Therapist Assistant and Nurse Aide
  • Home Health Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Per Diem Physical Therapist Assistant (Per Diem PTA)
  • Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA)

Top Job Duties of a Physical Therapy Assistant

Job responsibilities for a physical therapy assistant will vary from location to location and from employer to employer.  However, upon the completion of a multi-faceted survey from the Department of Labor of PTA’s, the most common duties from across the country are evident.  The top duties of a physical therapy assistant include:

  1. Compile and evaluate patient data based on observations and responses in order to communicate with physical therapists
  2. Coach, motivate, educate, and demonstrate therapeutic exercises or physical activities
  3. Manage passive or active exercises, therapeutic massage, aquatic physical therapy, or multi-modal treatments (light, sound, heat, electrical)
  4. Collaborate and communicate with physical therapists and administrative staff to share treatment plans and advice
  5. Accurately assess a patient’s vital signs, range of motion, body systems to optimize treatment plans

States with the Highest Employment of Physical Therapists

  • Texas           6,780
  • Ohio             6,210
  • Florida         5,340
  • California    5,040
  • Illinois         4,860

Top Paying States for Physical Therapists

  1. Texas               $71,780
  2. New Jersey     $64,230
  3. California       $63,860
  4. Florida            $62,730
  5. Connecticut   $61,530

Physical Therapist Salary & Job Growth

The average annual income of a physical therapist assistant is $46,920 which is $22.56 an hour.  Top PTA's will make around $80,000 while the bottom 10% will average just under thirty thousand dollars a year.   Experienced assistants may earn more over time as organizations grow and additional responsibilities are added to the mix.

Job growth for physical therapist assistants is expected nearly double over the next decade as demand continues to increase due to an aging population.  In fact, the BLS forecasts the physical therapy assistant sector to boom growing over 30% in the coming decade adding 51,400 jobs during that reporting period.  The economics of the employment of PTA's favors well-education, highly trained individuals.  As the demand outpaces qualified candidates, the ability to negotiate pay and preferred hours increases markedly.

Additional Resources for Physical Therapy Assistants

Related programs and degrees include occupational therapy, health aide, and massage therapy.  For more information, check out our Physical Therapy Career Guide on our blog.

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Career Summary: Physical therapist assistant Major




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