All About Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant in South Carolina
South Carolina is becoming an increasingly attractive state for individuals who are interested in a career as a physical therapy assistant (PTA).
With a diverse mixture of urban, suburban and rural areas, coupled with an aging population, this state is facing a growing need for PTAs that will continue for the foreseeable future.
Employment Prospects for PTAs in South Carolina
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that there are over 67,000 PTAs who are currently employed in the United States.
Additionally, this number is expected to increase by at least 46 percent between 2010 and 2020. When coupled with attrition due to retirement and other factors, the job prospects for newly licensed PTAs will be extremely promising.
South Carolina currently employees nearly 1,000 PTAs and the annual median wage for PTAs in the state is over $49,000. This compares very favorably with the national median annual wage of approximately $51,000. This is especially true given the lower cost of living that many parts of South Carolina enjoy.
Typical Job Opportunities for PTAs
The majority of licensed PTAs work in ambulatory care clinics, providing physical therapy to individuals who are treated on an outpatient basis.
These clinics provide treatment for a wide variety of conditions, ranging from individuals who are recovering from a traumatic injury or illness to those who are learning how to make use of replacement prosthetics.
PTAs working in these clinics enjoy a regular work schedule and rarely have to work on an overtime or unscheduled basis.
Most other PTAs work in private or public hospitals, providing physical therapy to the hospital patients. In general, they work with individuals who are suffering from a serious illness or injury, or who are recovering from a major surgery.
In addition to their duties as a PTA, hospital employees may be required to assist the doctors, nurses or other staff in other areas. In some cases, PTAs who are employed by a hospital may have an irregular work schedule in order to ensure that all of their patients receive adequate treatment.
Finally, many PTAs work in retirement, eldercare and rehabilitation centers. These are facilities for individuals who require long-term care.
In some cases, the ultimate objective may be to return them to their homes, while in other facilities, especially eldercare centers, the goal may be to help ensure their continued comfort. This area of employment often deals with mitigating long-term degenerative conditions, rather than seeking an outright cure for the patient.
Becoming a Licensed South Carolina PTA
South Carolina requires that all PTAs be licensed by the South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy. This organization requires that all individuals seeking to become a PTA complete the following steps:
- Complete a physical therapy assistant program at an accredited college.
- Successfully take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE).
- Individuals who have completed a foreign physical therapy assistant program must have their program’s qualifications evaluated by the Board.
- Individuals who are currently licensed in another state may seek licensure by endorsement.
The Physical Therapist Assistant Program
Physical therapy assistant programs are offered by a wide range of schools, including community colleges, vocational schools, and in some cases, universities. It usually takes two years for a full-time student to graduate with an associate’s degree.
Many schools allow those students who are working or otherwise unable to attend classes on a regular schedule to attend the program on a part-time basis.
These programs cover all of the academic and practical knowledge required to practice as a PTA. In many cases, this will include working with actual patients under the direct supervision of the instructors, while other schools offer internship programs in partnership with local clinics and hospitals. While some classes may be taken online, many hands-on classes will require the student to be physically present.
The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) must accredit all physical therapy assistant programs in the United States. South Carolina will not accept unaccredited programs, so it is vital that the student verify his or her schools status with the CAPTE.
Students who have completed a program offered outside of the United States must provide enough information to demonstrate that the program they attended is substantially equal to those offered by a CAPTE accredited school.
This verification process may be time consuming, so individuals who have completed a foreign program should make certain to provide this information well in advance of any deadlines they may face.
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The NPTE is a comprehensive examination designed to verify that the candidate is capable of carrying out the duties of a PTA. Because of this, passing the NPTE is required before the South Carolina Board will accept an application for licensure.
It is extremely important that the candidate only take the examination when he or she is confident of passing it. South Carolina permits two attempts at passing the NPTE, before requiring that the candidate appear before the Board to obtain approval to repeat the test a third time. The Board does not permit individuals to take the test more than three times.
Licensure by Endorsement
If the individual has a current license in a state where the requirements for licensure are substantially equal to those of South Carolina, he or she may obtain licensure by endorsement. This permits the individual to obtain a license without having to take the NPTE or repeat a PTA program.
However, it is important to verify that the individual is eligible for licensure by endorsement by contacting the Board well in advance of any personal or professional deadlines. It is important to remember that even individuals who are licensed in another state cannot practice in North Carolina until they have obtained a license from North Carolina.
Becoming a PTA can be an excellent professional choice. Whether it is an individual who is seeking to enter a more rewarding career, or a recent graduate who is entering the job market for the first time, becoming a PTA offers a wide variety of opportunities.
With the continued growth in this field, licensed South Carolina PTAs will continue to enjoy excellent personal and professional opportunities for the foreseeable future.