CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a physical therapist assistant.
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:
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Aspiring physical therapist assistants have opportunities in high school to prepare for their career. Recommended are advanced classes in anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, algebra, and computer applications.
Volunteering at a hospital or other health care facility is another way to add to your skill set, enhance your resume, and help you determine if this kind of work is a possible career fit.
Physical therapist assistant degree programs are offered at the Associate’s 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. To search for CAPTE-accredited programs, click on this link: http://aptaapps.apta.org/accreditedschoolsdirectory/captedirectory.aspx?UniqueKey=
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 physical therapist assistant 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.
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.
Jurisprudence (state or district) Exam
FSBPT Exam Registration
You will also find a practice exam and assessment tool on the FSBT website.
The purpose of the NPTE-PTA is to:
• Assess basic, entry-level competence after graduating from a CAPTE-accredited physical therapist assistant 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.
PTAs can find a list of continuing education courses offered by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) by visiting http://learningcenter.apta.org/Student/Catalogue/Catalogue.aspx
How to become a Physical Therapist Assistant
In all U.S. states, physical therapist assistants are required to have an Associate’s Degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Physical therapist assistant (PTA) programs, which are commonly available at trade schools and community colleges, consist of both classroom and clinical components. Curricula typically include courses in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, kinesiology, psychology, rehabilitation, first aid, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR); as well as practical experience working at a treatment center.
Individuals who successfully complete a CAPTE-accredited program are eligible to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination, administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. In addition to this national exam, some states stipulate that graduates pass a state examination and/or fulfill continuing education requirements to maintain their licensure.