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Degrees and Schools
Most states require physical therapist assistants to graduate from an accredited two-year program with an associate degree in order to be able to apply for licensure. Accreditation is conferred by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). At the present time, there are over 250 accredited programs in the U.S. A list of accredited schools can be found on the APTA web site.
Most physical therapist assistant programs last two years and culminate in an associate's degree. They typically include a blend of classroom study and hands-on clinical practice. Common courses found in a typical curriculum are:
- Intro to Physical Therapy
- Therapeutic Exercise
Online Classes and Programs
A variety of schools offer online programs which generally provide students with basic medical training along with an understanding of clinical practices. Graduates typically earn an associate's degree, which satisfies the educational qualification for the licensure exam in most states. Coursework is administered online via video lectures, computer-based assignments, and virtual "classroom" discussion. However, it is important that any such training be supplemented with hands-on clinical experience. This can be accomplished through an internship at a medical facility and/or on-site classroom laboratory work.
Most states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed. The requirement for licensure is generally twofold: an associate's degree from an accredited program (including a minimum number of hours of clinical experience) and passing a licensure exam. Exams are administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) and coordinated through the Board of Physical Therapy in the particular state. Some states have additional requirements beyond licensure, such as certification in first aid and CPR. In most states, there is also a continuing education requirement for maintaining licensure. Specific requirements can be obtained by contacting the state's licensing board.
How to Evaluate Schools
Some important questions that should be asked by prospective students considering a school include:
- Accreditation - Are the school's programs accredited by CAPTE? Does the accreditation meet the educational requirement for licensure in your state?
- Program quality - Does the program confer at least an associate's degree to its graduates? Is there a significant amount of clinical training included?
- Time frame - Does the duration of the program match your goals and career plans? Is the duration fixed or can it be tailored?
- Financial assistance - Are there financial aid or scholarship opportunities available? Does the school facilitate student access to them?
- Success of graduates - What is the total number of graduates produced by the school? How many of them go on to obtain licensure and gainful employment?
Physical Therapist Assistant Job Description
Improving an individual's mobility or relieving his/her pain through physical therapy can be a demanding job. In many cases a thorough treatment requires more than one individual. This is the reason why physical therapists rely upon the help provided by other health care workers known as physical therapist assistants.
Assistants perform a variety of tasks but they all have the same purpose: to provide part of a patient's treatment under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. Working together, therapists and their assistants provide services to injured or diseased patients with the goal of improving their strength, flexibility, and fitness; relieving their pain; and improving their quality of life. Duties can include many of the following:
- Conferring with physical therapy staff to coordinate treatment
- Helping patients exercise
- Observing patients during treatment
- Preparing therapy equipment
- Administering massages, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound
- Recording the patient's response to treatment
- Measuring patient progress
- Reporting the outcome of each treatment to the physical therapist
- Keeping the treatment area clean and organized
- Assistance patient if necessary when moving to or from a treatment area
- Fitting patients for support devices such as crutches and instructing them on their use
- Performing clerical tasks as needed (e.g., ordering supplies, answering phones, etc)
Being good at this type of job requires strong interpersonal skills. In addition, it helps if an individual is attentive to detail and has good organizational abilities. Physical therapist assistants work in a wide variety of health care settings. Most work in hospitals or in physical therapy clinics. Some others can be found in places like nursing homes, outpatient care centers, rehabilitation facilities, and home health agencies.
Job Title: PA Assistant
Attended: Northern State University • Aberdeen, SD
Studied Human Performance & Fitness (completion in 2010)
Highest relevant degree: Bachelor's
"Overall I enjoy my career very much. I get to help people return to healthy, natural movement. Progress can be slow at times, and everyone can feel under appreciated, but so many moments compensate for those two factors. Great field to be in plus there is expected growth."
Ratings are on a 1-10 scale
|School Rating||4||I did feel a little under prepared for what I first experienced. Not because of a lack of knowledge, but because of a lack of real-world experience. Picking up the slack in the beginning did lead to increased stress.|
|Opportunity for Promotion||5||The simple fact of the matter is I need to go back to school to be promoted. Maybe after a couple of years of experience I will do that, but for now I am learning so much on the job that I haven't felt the need. If I ever do go back I know I will be much better prepared than if I would have gone back to school right away.|
|Job Security||8||I have read nothing negative about the field's growth in the future, so I feel pretty good about it. I have never seen a decline and the problems I see on a daily basis are going to continually occur in modern day living.|
|Earnings Potential||8||I may be over stating it here but I do pretty well financially for where I am at in the U.S. cost of living wise. I would need more schooling to make a substantial amount more than I do now, but I live very comfortably with what I make.|
|How Stressful||5||My job is dependent on other people's results, so at times it can be stressful if there is slow progress, but overall I donít think it is that bad. The environment in my job is very relaxed and fun, but as I said earlier when peopleís movement or health is in jeopardy you want to fix them immediately and it doesnít always work that way.|
|Task Variety||8||People wouldn't think it, but I am always doing something new. The human body is so complex and people are always coming in with different needs or deficiencies. No day is ever the exact same and I canít imagine sitting at a computer all day or pounding nails for hours on end.|
|How Cool Is The Career||9||I think my job is one of the most interesting out there. I get to see the human body working, healing, and becoming stronger. I meet so many interesting people with so many goals and each one of them leaves an imprint on me. I see some of the most amazing feats of strength in people. I get excited just talking about it.|
|Career Flexibility||5||My schedule is pretty much set each day. That doesn't mean I don't do something different with my time, it just means I go in and out at the same time each day. If you are looking for a "yes or no" answer then I would have to say no, my job schedule is not flexible, but my day-to-day activity is.|
|Social Orientation||9||One of the reasons I enjoy this job so much is because of the people I get to work with on a week-to-week basis. Just the clients/patients alone are worth it, but I also get to work with some amazing physical therapists and other PAs.|
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