Physical Therapy Associates Degree for PTA Level Training
In order to become a physical therapist, you must complete a master’s degree or doctoral program. However, if you’re interested in becoming a physical therapy assistant, also known as a PTA, you can enroll in a physical therapy associate’s degree PTA program.
The associate’s degree program will prepare the student for a career as a PTA. This is a two-year program that often includes both clinical experiences and classroom lectures to help students learn the skills necessary to work with patients in a professional medical setting. A student entering the PTA program will be expected to complete introductory college-level classes in English, biology, and chemistry.
Working as a physical therapy assistant can be a fulfilling and rewarding career. Many students will turn to this option once they realize the traditional physical therapy education and training will require several years of education including hundreds of hours of clinical work and the completion of a bachelor’s degree program and a master’s or doctoral degree. The short two-year associate’s degree program will result in a degree in physical therapy and will qualify the assistant for a wide range of employment options, not to mention excellent health benefits and job security.
PTA Associate’s Degree Program Outline
A student will learn about healthcare science, medical terminology, and human anatomy before being instructed about the basic duties of the PTA. The clinical portion of the program will teach students how to communicate with patients under the direct supervision of PTs, handle real world problems that can arise in a medical setting and administer basic therapeutic exercises. This program often includes four semesters. The beginning of the program will examine science and theory, while the last portion of the program will focus mainly on lab and clinical work.
These classes usually explore kinesiology and human anatomy, health science labs, disability procedures, physical therapy modalities and fundamentals, musculoskeletal and pathophysiology conditions and clinical therapy assistance.
Choosing the Best PTA Program
As we have mentioned, a physical therapy assistant program is typically two years in length and consists of both general education classes, PT classes, and clinical experience. The primary PTA content areas in the curriculum can include biomechanics, exercise physiology, neuroscience, clinical pathology, values/ethics, and behavioral science. Approximately, eighty percent of the curriculum consists of lab study and didactic learning, while the remaining twenty percent is dedicated to clinical work. These students will spend an average of four months in full-time education experiences.
PTA Program Accreditation
It’s very important that you do your research and attend an accredited program. The only recognized accredited agency for physical therapy assistants is CAPTE. Without physical therapy assistant licensure, the PTA will be unable to land employment in every state except Hawaii and Colorado.
Some of these programs will offer hybrid programs that consist of both online and in-class courses. These online courses are designed to allow students to complete coursework at their own pace, although most classes will have a determined due date for each assignment.
When researching these training programs you should consider a variety of factors, such as:
- Types of training and clinical education opportunities
- Faculty composition
- Student demographics
- Admission requirements
- Financial aid opportunities
- Licensure pass rates
Bridge Programs do exist for the PTA to PT Degree
This type of associate’s degree to bachelor’s degree bridge program has strict enrollment requirements and is only available to full-time students. Students must complete general education courses before applying and have a minimum GPA of 3.5 in order to be eligible for enrollment. Some schools will also require applicants to have completed one year of physical therapy specific coursework. These programs consist of associates and bachelor’s degree coursework and can often be completed in just three years. Of course, this type of program will consist of a heavier course load and hundreds of hours devoted to lab and clinical work. The bridge program will combine classes such as physical therapy modalities and health care ethics with hands-on clinical experience, in order to prepare students for enrollment into a doctoral or master’s degree program.
PTA Licensure and Continuing Education
Most states will require the PTA to obtain licensure by passing the NPT exam. In order to qualify for this exam, graduates must complete the associate’s program in physical therapy that’s accredited by the CAPTE.
PTA licensure must be renewed every two years. Each year, PTAs are also required to obtain twelve to fifteen hours of continuing education credits. This can be earned by enrolling in online courses, attending seminars and workshops, volunteering in the field, or by writing a paper on an approved subject matter.
Every state will have their own continuing education requirements. Some states can even require as many as twenty hours of continuing education a year.
Physical Therapy Assistant Work Environment
The PTA can work in a variety of healthcare settings including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, rehabilitation centers, physical therapy clinics, and nursing homes.
Most PTAs will work Monday to Friday, although the work hours will vary depending on employment status and the facility. As an example, most skilled nursing facilities and hospitals provide reduced coverage on the weekend, and many physical therapy clinics and practices have weekend and evening hours in order to accommodate their patient’s schedules.
This type of position can be very physically demanding because the PTA will have to lift, crouch, kneel, stoop, walk, and stand for long periods of time. Additionally, the PTA will also be required to lift and move heavy equipment, and lift patients or help them to ambulate, stand, or walk.
While the PTA cannot become a physical therapist without earning a doctoral or master’s degree in the field, they can advance to teaching and administrative roles by earning experience in the field.
Career Outlook and Salary
According to the BLS, the PTA will make an average annual salary of $42,000, although the salary can vary depending on the place of employment, experience, and level of training and education.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects that the employment rate for PTAs will grow by more than forty percent from 2018 to 2022, which is much faster than the average occupation.