The field of physical therapy is experiencing a robust and sustained period of growth in America. This is due to the growing importance of effective physical therapy as a part of any integrated healthcare plan.
Whether it is to assist a patient who has suffered a traumatic injury or to help the elderly maintain an independent lifestyle, physical therapy is a vital part of America’s healthcare system.
Due to this, physical therapy assistants are finding themselves in greater demand than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently estimates that physical therapy assistant jobs will increase by at least 46 percent between 2010 and 2020.
Furthermore, Illinois currently employees over 3,700 physical therapy assistants who earn a median annual salary of over $47,000. Because of this, becoming a licensed Illinois physical therapy assistant is an excellent career decision.
Becoming a Licensed Physical Therapy Assistant in Illinois
Like all states, Illinois requires that physical therapy assistants be licensed, in this case by the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation.
In order to become a licensed physical therapist assistant, the candidate must complete the following steps:
- Complete an accredited physical therapist assistant program.
- Successfully take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).
- Individuals who have obtained a physical therapy assistant’s license in another state may apply for licensure by endorsement.
The Physical Therapy Assistant Program
Community colleges, vocational schools and some universities offer physical therapy assistant programs.
In most cases, entry into a physical therapy assistant program requires that the student be at least 18 years of age and be able to show proof of graduation from a high school or the equivalent.
A physical therapy assistant program generally takes approximately two years for a full-time student to complete. Upon graduation, the student receives an associate’s degree in physical therapy.
In addition to classes on physical therapy, these programs include general medical courses in order to ensure that the therapist assistant understands the theories behind the practice of physical therapy.
Many programs also include a clinical component to their studies, where the students will work with licensed physical therapists in providing care to actual patients.
For those students who cannot attend school on a full-time basis, many programs offer part-time programs. In most cases, these programs offer weekend and evening class schedules, allowing working students and those with family obligations to complete the program on their own schedule. In addition, some classes may be offered online, allowing the student to work from home.
It is extremely important that the student ensure that his or her program is currently accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). This body ensures that all accredited physical therapy programs conform to its educational standards.
In many cases, a state will either not accept or require extra documentation for any non-accredited program. Before entering a physical therapy assistant program, the student can verify that it is currently accredited by contacting the CAPTE.
Taking the NPTE
The NPTE is a national exam for physical therapy assistants that is designed to test their academic and practical qualifications to practice in the field of physical therapy. As a comprehensive exam, the NPTE should only be taken by candidate’s who are confident of their ability to pass it. While a student can retake the NPTE, failing it will delay the licensure process and may result in the student missing other important deadlines.
Licensure by Endorsement
Individuals who already have a license in another state may apply for licensure by endorsement. This allows them to bypass the need to retake the NPTE and any class work.
The requirements for licensure in their original state must be equal to or greater than those of Illinois and the candidate must ensure that his or her test scores and other records are properly transferred to Illinois.
Finally, the candidate must still be in good standing in his or her home state in order to obtain a license by endorsement.
Career Options for Physical Therapist Assistants
- Working in hospitals to assist patients after a surgical procedure or illness.
- Rehabilitation centers employ a large number of physical therapy assistants to assist their patients regain full physical function.
- In-home care is becoming increasingly common. Physical therapy assistants will visit the patient and his or her caregivers to evaluate the patient’s progress and provide physical therapy.
- Eldercare involves working with the elderly and using physical therapy to help maintain their physical and mental health.
Becoming a physical therapy assistant can be an excellent choice, whether the individual has just graduated from high school, or is already employed and seeking to transition to a more rewarding career. In either case, physical therapy assistants enjoy excellent salary and professional options in Illinois.