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, and are also responsible for recording and reporting the results of treatments to the physical therapist. PTAs also help in the daily operations of a practice, provide standard care, as well as 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.

Physical Therapy Assistant Associate in Applied Science (AAS):  An associate’s 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 assistant and physical therapy aide 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 is required to earn a degree or certificate of completion from an accredited college or university.  The degree program includes substantive real-world work in the field under the direct supervision of a licensed physical therapist known as clinical experience.

College Requirements for a Physical Therapist Assistant

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 performing research into dozens of programs, a list of common classes have been listed below to help you better understand the content of a physical therapy assistant degree program.  Sample PTA degree classes may include:

  • 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

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Employment Opportunities 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 settings across the country by public companies, private entities, and non-profit organizations.  Examples of where a PTA can work include: rehabilitation centers, hospitals, medical centers, outpatient clinics, medical offices, skilled nursing facilities, long-term care centers, convalescent homes, community health organizations, schools, home health agencies, pediatric clinics, athletic facilities, and sports clinics.

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)
  • 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

Job Growth, Salary and Related Therapy Fields

Job growth for physical therapist assistants is expected nearly double over the next decade as the demand for physical therapy increases due to an aging population.  In fact, the BLS forecasts the physical therapy assistant sector to boom growing over 40% in the coming decade adding 51,400 jobs during that reporting period.  The need for physical therapists due to the various conditions associated with ageing will result in the need for more assistants in order to reduce treatments costs, as once a plan for treatment has been put together by the therapist an assistant may provide a majority of the treatment.

The average annual income of a physical therapist assistant is $45,290.  Experienced assistants may earn more over time, though overall physical therapist assistant is a limited growth field, and it is important to note that almost no classes overlap with those of a physical therapy program which makes advancement into physical therapy difficult as.

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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