Are There Specialties For Physical Therapist Assistants -Physical Therapist Assistant Career Guide
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Are There Specialties For Physical Therapist Assistants

PTAs and the Benefits of Obtaining a Speciality

In the current healthcare sector, the provision of effective physical therapy is a vital part of any full-spectrum treatment, whether it is to assist the patient in recovering from a traumatic injury or for more general wellness purposes.

Because of this, physical therapy assistants (PTAs) have become a vital part of the national physical therapy sector.

Because of the wide range of physical therapy services that are provided in the United States, many PTAs have become interested in obtaining skill in a physical therapy specialty in order to improve their professional options in this field.

Specialties For Physical Therapist Assistants

Unofficial Specialties

Perhaps the simplest route to becoming known as a specialized PTA is to work in a given field, accumulating experience and knowledge on the job.

In addition, by working closely with specialized physical therapists and other medical professionals, the PTA can obtain letters of recommendation that attest to his or her skill in the chosen field.

In most cases, this process involves working in a facility that provides specialized forms of care, or focusing on a single field as part of a larger facility’s PTA team.

For example, a PTA specialist in a major hospital may focus on providing physical therapy for those individuals who have suffered traumatic injuries and amputations, as opposed to working with a wider variety of individuals. For PTAs working in a doctor’s office, their employer’s field will usually determine what type of specialty they will be focusing on.

This type of specialization can range from focusing on a certain category of patients, such as eldercare or pediatric physical therapy, to providing a certain type of physical therapy service, such as focusing on aquatic physical therapy. Due to the wide variety of facilities that offer physical therapy, the nature of a PTA’s duties in the field will be heavily dependent on the policies and management style of the PTA’s superiors.

Academic Preparation

For those PTAs seeking to become specialists, the PTA program offers the ability to take elective courses focusing on their desired field. Depending on the size and emphasis of the school, there may be a wide variety of elective courses.

For those students considering becoming specialized PTAs, it is important to examine the school’s available courses in order to ensure that the desired elective classes will be available.

In addition, the PTA can take continuing education units (CEUs) while working in the field. In addition to being required in order to qualify for license renewal, the PTA can select CEUs that focus on his or her desired specialty, allowing the PTA to increase his or her proficiency in the desired specialty.


Another route to becoming a specialized PTA is to seek out an internship either before or immediately after the PTA’s graduation and licensure.

In addition to allowing the PTA to obtain practical experience in his or her desired specialty, it can also enable a PTA to make the personal and professional connections that can help find a job in the desired specialty area. Many schools offer internships to qualified students as part of their PTA programs, making this course of action an excellent choice.

Obtaining American Physical Therapy Association Certification

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offered certification for qualified PTAs in a number of physical therapy specialties.

These specialties included the following:

  • Neuromuscular
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Integumentary.

Because these fields require advanced knowledge and training, the APTA has established strict requirements for those wishing to become certified specialists in these fields.

These requirements include the following:

  • Current APTA membership.
  • At least five years experience as a licensed PTA.
  • The PTA must be currently licensed in whatever state he or she is currently practicing in.
  • 60 hours of continuing education, of which at least 45 hours must be in the desired specialty.
  • Two letters of recommendation from a supervising physical therapist or other individual who can provide accurate information about the applicant’s skills.
  • Involvement in at least three activities that demonstrate leadership in the field of physical therapy.

Because of these requirements, official certification is unavailable to new PTAs. However, even a starting PTA can focus on obtaining the experience and education required by the APTA, and some employers will actually aid the PTA in doing so by providing more opportunities for the PTA to gain experience in his or her desired specialty.

The Benefits of Specialization

By specializing in a given field, the PTA can dramatically improve his or her professional options. Especially in fields that are experiencing rapid growth, such as sports medicine or eldercare, the ability to function at a higher level of proficiency can dramatically improve the PTA’s earning potential and job security. Furthermore, for those PTAs who are transferring to another job, being an APTA certified specialist provides immediate proof of the PTA’s competency.

The Limitations of Specialization

It is important to note that becoming a specialist, even one certified by the APTA, does not take the place of obtaining a state license.

A PTA specialist must still obtain a valid state license in order to practice. Furthermore, a PTA specialist cannot provide services that are forbidden by the state, such as providing a diagnosis for a patient or undertaking to provide independent medical services.

Ultimately, becoming known as a qualified PTA specialist can dramatically improve a PTA’s career options.

Whether they obtain an official certification from the APTA or simply become known as specialists by their employers and coworkers, PTAs can increase their earning potential, job security and the respect they receive from their coworkers and superiors alike.

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