Choosing a new career path to be a physical therapy assistant (PTA) can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor, which requires an associate’s degree as well as licensure.
Earning an associate’s degree in this field does not allow physical therapy assistants to practice legally in a state.
Even if individuals wish to be an assistant to a physical therapist, they still need to undergo special certification through accredited physical therapy assistant programs.
PTA Educational and Personal Requirements
Aspiring PTAs need to fulfill two years of classroom instruction and clinical experience via PTA training programs, teaching students how to work directly with physical therapists and aiding with instruction in mobility exercises, physical therapy equipment, and pain medication.
As the minimum requirement to practice as a physical therapy assistant in the United States, the Associate of Science degree in Physical Therapy Assisting provides students with the necessary credentials and skills to professionally assist both physical therapists and patients in the healthcare industry.
PTAs provide the necessary treatment through prescribed therapeutic exercises and techniques, such as electrical stimulation, ultrasound techniques, massages, gait and balance training, and mechanical traction. Employers prefer hiring physical therapy assistants who have not only successfully completed a PTA training program but also meet certain personality standards, such as:
- Compassion: Because physical therapy is a crucial factor in a patient’s healing process after illnesses, surgeries, and injuries, physical therapy assistants should be courteous and friendly when dealing with them.
- Dexterity: PTAs needs to feel comfortable when performing therapeutic exercises and manual therapy, and dexterity is the key to successfully assisting patients and the physical therapist.
- Detail-oriented: Like other occupations, PTAs need to have an organized workspace, keep accurate records, and properly follow instructions to ensure quality healthcare.
- Physical stamina: Physical therapy assistant frequently work on their feet when assisting patients, requiring them to be able to kneel, bend, stoop, and stand all day.
PTA Licensure and Certification
Currently, various programs are available across the nation to provide physical therapy assistants with state certification. PTAs must obtain licensure in their state of practice in order to find legal employment at a healthcare facility.
Many states require physical therapy assistants to renew their licensure regularly, which includes earning continuing education credits. In order to obtain licensure, PTAs need take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE), which is presented the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. The NPTE covers the practice of physical therapy that is consistent to the exam blueprint, including:
- Examination and evaluation
- Treatment intervention
Assessing entry-level competence to ensure safe provision of procedure intervention, the NPTE requires physical therapy assistants to have previously graduated from a college that has earned accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). The CAPTE sets the nationwide standards that PTA programs must meet in order to earn accreditation and teach physical therapy.
PTA Regulatory Boards
States that do not require physical therapy assistants to obtain licensure require them to maintain a minimum number in continuing education credit hours in order to validate their PTA license, which is governed by each state’s regulatory board.
Most jurisdictions across the nation have independent state boards for physical therapy, but some combine the physical therapy boards with medical boards or other professions. Independent licensing boards provide the expertise to protect the public by regulating physical therapy practices. The scope of physical therapy practices evolves with contemporary practices, requiring state regulation boards to determine each procedure’s appropriateness in this field’s scope of practice.
PTA Certificate of Advanced Proficiency
Upon graduation of the associate’s program, physical therapy assistants can earn the PTA Certificate of Advanced Proficiency. This PTA program teaches advanced proficiency in a specific sector of the physical therapy industry through experience, education, and leadership. Physical therapy assistants can choose a career focus in the following proficiencies:
- Acute care
- Pediatric physical therapy
By obtaining an advanced proficiency in one of these subjects, PTAs show potential employers they have gone above and beyond the entry-level education, making the physical therapy assistants more sellable to employers in the healthcare field. Many benefits exist as to why physical therapy assistants should obtain an advanced proficiency in a specific sector of the health industry, including:
- Professional recognition by the APTA
- Increased confidence in patient healthcare
- Distinction to assist with advancement opportunities
- Reinforcement of lifetime learning
Certificate of Advanced Proficiency Pre-requisites
Physical therapy assistants must fulfill certain pre-requisites within the past five years before they can candidate for entrance into a special certification program, including 2,000 hours of work experience as well as 60 hours of continuing education courses.
Students need to be enrolled as members in the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), provide employer reference letters, and submit proof of previous leadership experience. Those who successfully fulfill the APTA’s requirements can candidate to earn the Certificate of Advanced Proficiency, enabling them to gain a higher-paying position in the healthcare field.
A 2010 report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that between the years of 2010 and 2010, employment for physical therapy assistants is expected to rise by 51,200, averaging out to a 45 percent increase rate for employment in the physical therapy industry.
Many healthcare clinics provide additional PTA specialization courses, designed to help aspiring physical therapy assistants employ their specific skills in the healthcare field. Physical therapy assistants who wish to continue their education and obtain a higher paying position in the healthcare sector can change their career focus and apply for physical therapist training programs. Many professionals choose PTA as a degree so that they can continue on and become a physical therapist, earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physical therapy.