The practice of physical therapy is a rapidly growing component of America’s healthcare system.
Physical therapists and therapist assistants are involved at nearly every level of a complete medical treatment plan.
Whether it is assisting a patient to recover from a traumatic accident or helping the elderly to maintain an independent and satisfying lifestyle, the physical therapy assistant is a vital part of any effective medical treatment.
This is especially true in Tennessee, where an increasingly diverse population is seeing a rising a need for all types of physical therapy.
Physical Therapy Assistants in Tennessee
Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has estimated that there are over 67,000 physical therapy assistants (PTA) working in the United States, with nearly 2,300 PTAs working in Tennessee. F
urthermore, the BLS expects the number of available careers for PTAs to rise by at least 46 percent between 2010 and 2020. When combined with employee attrition from retirement and other causes, this results in a career that has extremely favorable employment prospects for new PTAs.
The annual mean salary of Tennessee PTAs is over $51,000. Because of Tennessee’s low cost of living, this is an excellent salary for professional workers.
In addition, experienced PTAs, or those working in high demand fields, may expect to earn considerably more. Finally, the level of compensation PTAs receive is competitive with other fields that require a similar amount of training.
Becoming a Tennessee Physical Therapy Assistant
Tennessee requires that all physical therapy assistants be licensed by the Tennessee Board of Physical Therapy. The Board has the following requirements that all candidates must successfully complete:
- Obtain a letter of recommendation attesting to the candidate’s moral character.
- Complete an accredited program for physical therapy assistants.
- Take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).
- If the candidate is seeking licensure by endorsement, submit proof of his or her status.
Physical Therapy Assistant Training Programs
Community colleges or vocational institutions offer most physical therapy assistant programs. These programs usually take about two years for a full-time student to complete. Most programs include a combination of academic class work, laboratory exercises and in some cases, supervised work with physical therapy patients.
In addition, some programs also offer externships, which is a process by which a physical therapy student can gain experience in a working medical office or other institution. While unpaid, externships can be very useful in obtaining the practical experience that will help prepare the physical therapist assistant to obtain employment after graduation.
Many physical therapy programs also offer part-time options for those students who are currently employed or otherwise unable to attend classes on a regular schedule. In many cases, part-time students will attend classes on the weekends or evenings, in addition to being allowed to complete some courses via the Internet.
Usually, a part-time student will design a schedule based on his or her needs, in cooperation with the school’s physical therapy program administration.
Finally, the physical therapy assistant program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). The CAPTE only accredits those programs that adhere to strict standards of educational and medical excellence, ensuring that an accredited program’s graduates are fully prepared to become effective physical therapy assistants.
The Tennessee Board will in general not accept graduation from a non-accredited board, so it is very important that the student ensure that his or her program is currently in good standing with the CAPTE.
If the student has attended a foreign school, he or she must submit evidence that the school complies with the standards set forth by the CAPTE before the Board will accept his or her proof of graduation.
The NPTE is a comprehensive exam that covers all aspects of the PTAs duties. Although a student can repeat the NPTE should he or she fail it the first time, this will delay the licensure process. Because of this, a physical therapy assistant candidate should only take the NPTE if he or she is confident of passing the examination.
Licensure by Endorsement
Individuals who are licensed in another state may obtain their license via endorsement. This requires them to provide the Tennessee Board with information about their current license. The candidate must be in good standing in his or her home state, whether or not the license is currently active.
Any individual seeking licensure by endorsement must remember that they are not allowed to practice in Tennessee until they have received a license from the Board, regardless of their status in another state.
Becoming a PTA in Tennessee is an excellent choice for those seeking entry into an expanding field with promising professional and salary options.
Furthermore, physical therapy is a personally rewarding field that allows the PTA to directly help his or her fellow citizens.
Whether the PTA is working at a major hospital, convalescent home, or is providing in-home care to the elderly, he or she will be respected by fellow professionals and the general public alike.