How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

On 29 Jun., 2021

An overview of physical therapist assistant's career field is discussed. Entry level and continuing education requirements are provided, along with licensure procedures.

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

Continuing Education Requirements for this Health Care Career

Physical therapist assistants are in the top ten fastest growing careers in the health care industry. They work under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist to treat patients. The majority of employment opportunities for physical therapist assistants are in physical therapist’s offices or hospitals.

Physical therapist assistants perform a variety of tasks involving exercises, massages, electrical stimulation, paraffin baths, hot and cold packs, traction, and ultrasound. Physical therapist assistants record patient’s responses to treatment and report the outcome of each treatment to the physical therapist in charge of the patient’s treatment.

The physical therapist assistant occupation is expected to increase by 32 percent between now and 2026. This is an increase of over 20,000 new jobs in this career field. The median annual income is $41,360, with the highest earnings in home health care services and nursing care facilities (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2018-2019).

Paying for Physical Therapist Assistant Education

Students in certified physical therapist assistant schools are eligible to receive financial aid from federal sources and other free sources of free money to pay for their education. Additional information regarding scholarships and grants to become a physical therapist assistant is available at American Physical Therapy Association.

Entry Level Education for Physical Therapist Assistants

Most states require physical therapist assistants to earn an associate degree in physical therapy as a minimum. Associate degrees are offered at over 233 accredited programs in this country (American Physical Therapy Association, 2019). These programs last 2 years or four semesters and result in earning an associate degree in applied science.

Certified programs include academic study and hands-on clinical experience. Academic course work includes algebra, anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, and psychology. Clinical work includes certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), along with first aid and field experience in treatment centers. Prospective employers view clinical experience as essential to ensuring that students understand the responsibilities of a physical therapist assistant.


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Most states and employers require licensure as a physical therapist assistant. States that require licensure stipulate specific educational and examination criteria. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) coordinates and administers licensure examinations and individuals should contact their State Board of Physical Therapy for a licensure packet.

Many states have additional requirements beyond licensure, which include certification in CPR and first aid. All states require a minimum number of hours of clinical experience. Specifics for each state are obtained through the following options: by contacting the American Physical Therapist Association (APTA), a certified physical therapist assistant education program, or a State licensing board.

Continuing Education for Physical Therapist Assistants

Continuing education for physical therapist assistants is available through APTA online courses. These distance learning courses include working with insurers, coding, practice management, advanced strategies with patients, and more.

All certified programs around the country offer continuing education programs to prepare physical therapist assistants for recertification. Each state has specific continuing education requirements to maintain licensure and these requirements can be obtained by contacting the appropriate State licensing board.

Making Connections in the Health Care Industry

A physical therapist assistant is an important person in a health care team who provides medical health care services for patients who are accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as lower-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.

After completing entry level education requirements, new physical therapist assistants often have little difficulty finding employment. This is because this career field is one of the fastest growing career fields in the health care industry. Entry into this career field provides additional opportunities to branch out within the health care industry.

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