CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a physical therapist assistant.
Is becoming a physical therapist assistant right for me?
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If you are interested in becoming a physical therapist assistant, there are certain high school courses that can help prepare you for this career path. While there is not a specific set of required high school courses to become a physical therapist assistant, taking classes in the following areas can be beneficial:
- Science courses: Physical therapy is a science-based field, so taking courses in biology, anatomy, physiology, and chemistry can provide a solid foundation of knowledge for future study.
- English courses: Communication is a key part of being a physical therapist assistant, so taking courses in English, including writing and public speaking, can help develop communication skills.
- Physical Education courses: Physical therapist assistants are often involved in helping patients improve their physical fitness, so taking physical education courses can be beneficial in gaining a deeper understanding of exercise and fitness.
- Psychology courses: Physical therapist assistants often work with patients who are in pain or struggling with mobility, so taking courses in psychology can provide an understanding of how to work with patients and provide emotional support.
In addition to these courses, volunteering or shadowing in a physical therapy setting can be a great way to gain experience and insight into the profession.
Physical therapy assisting degree programs are offered at the associate level. It is important to select a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
Accredited PTA schools offer two-year/five-semester degree programs consisting of 75% coursework (classroom and laboratory) and 25% clinical work. Classes include anatomy, kinesiology, neuroscience, medical terminology, pathology, therapy exercises, and patient assistance techniques. Instruction in first aid and CPR is also part of the PTA curriculum.
Factors to consider when choosing a program include:
- Structure and curriculum
- Admission requirements
- Types of clinical education and training opportunities
- Faculty composition and cohesiveness
- Licensure pass rates
- Post-graduate employment statistics
- Cost and financial aid options
State Licensure & National Licensing Exam
Once you graduate from a CAPTE-accredited program, you will be eligible to pursue your license to work in the field. To do so, follow these steps:
- Contact your state licensing authority to find out what your specific jurisdiction requires
- Apply for a license
Request a licensure application from your licensing authority. Carefully complete the form, pay the fees, and follow the instructions for submission.
- Get approval and register for your exam
Once your jurisdiction approves your licensure application, you may register for the National Physical Therapy Exam for Physical Therapist Assistants (NPTE-PTA) and/or jurisprudence (state or district) exam using the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) online processing system.
The purpose of the NPTE-PTA is to:
- Assess basic, entry-level competence after graduating from a CAPTE-accredited program
- Help regulatory authorities evaluate candidates
- Provide comparable standards between jurisdictions
As a licensed physical therapist assistant, you can work under the guidance and supervision of a licensed physical therapist in a number of settings:
- Home healthcare
- Hospitals – acute and/or sub-acute care
- Industrial, workplace, or other occupational settings
- Inpatient/outpatient rehabilitation centers
- Outpatient clinics
- Physical therapy offices
- Skilled nursing/assisted care facilities
- Sports and fitness facilities
Continuing Education & Career Development Credentials
All U.S. jurisdictions require that physical therapist assistants complete specific continuing education and/or continuing competency credits/units for license renewal. These requirements vary from state to state.