Is becoming a physical therapist assistant right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do physical therapist assistants do?
Career Satisfaction
Are physical therapist assistants happy with their careers?
What are physical therapist assistants like?

Still unsure if becoming a physical therapist assistant is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a physical therapist assistant or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

How to become a Physical Therapist Assistant

Becoming a physical therapist assistant involves completing specific educational and licensure requirements. Here's a general guide:

  • Education: Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent. This is the first step toward pursuing a career as a PTA.
  • Complete an Accredited PTA Program: Enroll in and successfully complete a Physical Therapy Assisting program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). These programs are offered by community colleges, vocational schools, and universities and typically take about two years to complete. Coursework includes classroom instruction in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and therapeutic modalities, as well as clinical rotations to gain hands-on experience.
  • Clinical Experience: During your PTA program, you'll participate in clinical rotations in various healthcare settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, or rehabilitation centers. This hands-on experience is essential for developing practical skills and applying classroom knowledge to real-world patient care scenarios.
  • Graduation: Upon successful completion of your PTA program, you'll be awarded an Associate Degree in Physical Therapist Assisting or a similar designation.
  • Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam for PTAs (NPTE-PTA): After graduating from an accredited PTA program, you'll need to pass the NPTE-PTA, which is the licensure examination for physical therapist assistants. The exam assesses your knowledge and skills related to patient care, treatment implementation, safety protocols, and professional standards.
  • Apply for State Licensure: Once you've passed the NPTE-PTA, you can apply for licensure to practice as a PTA in your state. Requirements for licensure vary by state but typically include submitting an application, paying a fee, and providing proof of education and exam completion.
  • Continuing Education and Maintenance of Licensure: After obtaining licensure, PTAs are required to participate in continuing education activities to maintain their credentials. This may include attending workshops, conferences, or online courses to stay updated on advancements in the field and fulfill licensure renewal requirements.

Physical therapist assistants can pursue additional certifications to enhance their skills, knowledge, and career opportunities. While certification is not always mandatory for practice, earning specialized certifications demonstrates a commitment to professional development and may increase job prospects. Some common certifications for PTAs include:

  • Certified Physical Therapist Assistant (CPTA): Offered by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the CPTA certification recognizes PTAs who meet specific criteria related to education, clinical experience, and professional competence. This certification demonstrates a commitment to excellence in the field of physical therapy.
  • Specialty Certifications: PTAs can pursue specialty certifications in areas such as orthopedics, neurology, geriatrics, pediatrics, or sports physical therapy. These certifications typically require additional coursework, clinical experience, and passing a specialty exam. Examples include the Certified Orthopedic Physical Therapy Assistant (COPA) or Certified Geriatric Physical Therapy Assistant (CGPTA) credentials.
  • Advanced Proficiency Pathways: The APTA offers Advanced Proficiency Pathways (APP) for PTAs who want to demonstrate advanced skills and knowledge in specific areas of practice. PTAs can pursue advanced proficiency in areas such as acute care, cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation, wound management, or women's health.
  • Specialized Training Courses: PTAs can also enhance their skills through specialized training courses and workshops offered by professional organizations, universities, or continuing education providers. These courses may focus on specific treatment techniques, modalities, or emerging areas of practice within physical therapy.
  • Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) or Basic Life Support (BLS) Certification: PTAs working in certain settings, such as hospitals or outpatient clinics, may need to maintain certifications in emergency medical response or basic life support to respond effectively to medical emergencies and ensure patient safety.
  • Clinical Instructor Certification: PTAs interested in supervising and mentoring students during clinical rotations can pursue certification as a Clinical Instructor through programs offered by the APTA or other organizations. This certification prepares PTAs to effectively teach and evaluate students in clinical settings.