Physical Therapy Assistants are professionals who have studied for an associate degree at one of the many Physical Therapy Assistant schools. They work with and under the direction of a Physical Therapist. A PTA mainly provides assistance to patients who are suffering from mobility problems from as injury or illness which affect their ability to live normal functional lives. There are also other conditions which also benefit from physical therapy, such as those who have suffered a stroke or heart attack, and patients who are recovering from major operations or have arthritis.
More people are living longer due to technological advances in the medical field and because more trauma victims and newborns with disabilities are surviving. This therefore means that more people require medical attention for longer, which means that the job prospects for physical therapy assistants are excellent. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, PTA jobs are projected to grow by 35% in the 2008-2018 time-span.
Requirements For Physical Therapy Assistants
Although most states have their own rules and requirements for Physical Therapy Assistants, most of them are basically the same nationally:
- In order to become a licensed PTA, you will need to obtain an associate degree at an accredited physical therapy assistant school.
- The program is approximately 2 years long.
- Classes consist of both academic classroom work at the PTA school and hands-on clinical experience, which most of the schools for physical therapy assistant courses organise for their students.
- Subjects include pathology, human anatomy, and physiology amongst others.
- Some states require additional training such as Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, first aid, and blood-borne pathogens training.
- Most physical therapy assistant schools and physical therapy assistant colleges require that students participate in clinical rotations.
- These hand-on clinical stints allow the student to practise what they learn in class in a real-life situation.
- Various tasks such as documenting care, administering treatments, and educating patients will be undertaken during these periods of clinical work.
- Students are also exposed to various modalities such as sports medicine, wound care, pediatrics, and geriatrics, which can assist them to decide whether they want to specialise or not.
National Physical Therapy Assistant Exam and Licensure:
- All graduates of PTA schools have to undertake the NPTAE before they can practise as physical therapy assistants.
- This is a core requirement in order to get licensure.
- The exam is four-and-a-half hours long and consists of 200 questions.
- Only subjects which have been covered in the physical therapy assistant training will be covered in the exam, and generally include pathology, physiology, documentation, professional skills and anatomy.
Continuing Education Requirements:
- One of the requirements for license renewal, which needs to be done every 3-5 years, depending on the state, is continuing education.
- The exact kind and amount of educational practises which are required vary from state to state.
- You can either contact your State Physical Therapy Association to find out what their requirements are or the PTA school at which you study should also be able to provide you with the relevant information.
The Physical Therapy Assistant Job
A Physical Therapy Assistant works primarily with those who have suffered trauma or have a medical condition. Physical therapy improves a patient’s fitness, flexibility, strength and mobility, in order to help them to be pain-free and live a fully functioning life.
Physical Therapy Assistant duties:
- They assist patients with rehabilitative exercise routines to lessen the effects of a physical disability or chronic illness.
- These exercises are done to improve mobility, flexibility and strength, as well as to improve their balance and stabilize their walking.
- They monitor a Patient’s response and progress in report their observations to the Physical Therapist.
- The PT and PTA will review the treatments after each session and the PT will determine whether they are giving the patient the correct type of treatment or whether they need to change or adjust it.
- PTAs also monitor and record a patient’s continuing physical challenges and mental and emotional outlook.
- The PTA will help patients to adjust to their circumstances and teach them a new way of performing routine tasks so that they do not re-injure or strain themselves, and improve their healing time.
- The exercises they teach and help their patients with can also rebuild muscle strength or help to restore their full range of movement.
- They coordinate treatments with the Physical Therapist and administer massages, electrical stimulation and ultrasound.
- The equipment used by PTAs use can include elastic bands, balance balls, and other simple equipment which the patient can easily use at home to augment the exercise sessions they do with the PTA.
- They fit patients with support devices like crutches, prosthetics, walking frames etcetera and train the patient how to use them.
- They assist patients to move to and from the treatment areas and also to dress and undress if necessary.
- Physical therapy assistants also perform administrative duties such as telephone duties, manning the reception area, ordering supplies, and scheduling appointments for patients.
- They complete insurance claim documentation for patients and record patient information in databases.
- They also keep the treatment area and the equipment clean, tidy and organised.
Physical Therapy Assistant Schools
With the demand for physical therapy assistants increasing, there are in excess of 260 recognized physical therapy assistant programs and more than 1 000 schools for PTA training throughout the US. There are various physical therapy assistant degrees and certifications offered by PTA schools:
Associate of Science in Physical Therapy Assisting:
- An Associate of Science program, which is offered by most physical therapy assistant schools, offers a well-rounded introductory education in the fundamentals and general academics of physical therapy.
- The program lasts about 2 years and teaches working with patients who suffer from diseases or who are recovering from accidents, mobility, pain management, and working with physical therapy equipment amongst other subjects.
Associate of Applied Science in Allied Health:
- An allied health degree from one of the Physical Therapy Assistant colleges is beneficial for building a solid foundation in general health care systems and practices.
- The programs are between 1 and 2 years long and prepare students for entry-level work in a medical facility.
- They also provide grounding for more focused study for Physical Therapy Assistants.
Graduate Certificate in Geriatric Health:
- Once you have qualified as a physical therapy assistant and have practised as one for a few years you may wish to specialize.
- To get a graduate certificate you will have to go back to a Physical Therapy Assistant school to study further.
- Specializing in something like geriatrics or paediatrics can open many doors.
Associate of Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant:
- Occupational therapy is the strain of therapy which deals with patients who have physical and cognitive impairments.
- This course will give you a broader perspective and wider range of skills than a normal physical therapy assistant course and will qualify you to do entry-level Occupational Therapy work.
Physical Therapy Assistant Schools – Courses
Courses in most of the physical therapy assistant schools will include the following subjects:
- Clinical Training
- Human Anatomy
- Human Physiology
- Introduction to Physical Therapist Assisting
- Laboratory Practice
- Medical Terminology
- Medical Ethics
- Neurological Disorders
- Patient Communication
- Paediatric Physical Therapy
- Physical Therapy Fundamentals
- Sports Injuries
- Therapeutic Exercises
Physical Therapy Assistant Schools – Curriculum
Although some of the schools for Physical Therapy Assistant training in various states may have a slightly different curriculum, the core subjects remain basically the same no matter which Physical Therapy Assistant school you attend.
Below is the general curriculum that is followed by many of the physical therapy assistant schools for the associate degree in Physical Therapy Assistance:
PTA 101 Introduction to Physical Therapy
- Introduction to physical therapy.
- The role of the PTA in the healthcare team.
- The law as it pertains to Physical Therapy and ethical conduct.
- Patient motivation, interpersonal communication skills, and teamwork.
PTA 102 Physical Therapy Terminology
- Abbreviations & terminology used in PT to describe pathology of the body systems, physiology and anatomy.
- Terminology for patient care, laboratory tests, diagnostics, pharmacology, and surgery.
PTA 103 Applied Anatomy
- Human anatomy; external palpation, identification of structures and relationship to function and the musculoskeletal system.
- Kinesiology, motion, joint range of motion and manual muscle testing.
- The neuromuscular process; respiration.
PTA 104 Survey of Pathophysiology
- Overview of disease process, the physiology of healing and repair and general pathological responses.
- Systemic origins of musculoskeletal pain.
- Specific diseases and conditions and rehabilitation treatment.
PTA 105 Introduction to Neuroscience
- Introduction to basic functions and structure of the nervous system and their relationship to PT treatment of neurological diseases.
PTA 106 Regional Anatomy
- Function and structure of the human body; nervous, endocrine, and respiratory systems.
- Muscles, respiratory and circulatory systems.
PTA 110 PTA Procedures I (Basic PT Procedures)
- Basic care skills – vital signs, wound care, taping, aseptic techniques, and bandaging.
- Preparation of treatment environment and patient.
- Theory and application of cold, superficial heat, and hydrotherapy.
PTA 111 PTA Procedures II (PT Modalities)
- Theory and application of deep-heat modalities.
- Principles and application of basic massage techniques.
- Introduction to fundamentals of electrotherapy and traction.
PTA 112 PTA Procedures III (Functional Restoration)
- Principles of normal and abnormal movement.
- Functional restoration techniques.
- Ambulation, patient transfers, postural analysis, and bed mobility.
- Use of selected functional rehabilitation activities and assistive devices.
PTA 151 Clinical Experience 1
- Supervised clinical observation.
- Interpersonal communication and patient interaction.
- Written and oral patient progress reporting.
- Effective problem-solving skills.
PTA 201 Issues in Physical Therapy and Health Care
- Survey: psychological, medical and legal issues and the delivery of healthcare by a PTA.
- The achievement of goals of physical therapy and the physical therapy assistant’s influence.
PTA 202 Introduction to Orthopaedics
- Introduction to mechanics and biomechanics of orthopaedic injuries and diseases.
- Fundamentals of orthopaedic terminology.
- Survey: surgical repair; rehabilitation.
PTA 210 PTA Procedures IV (Therapeutic Exercise)
- Introduction to kinesiological principles related to exercise.
- Instruction in therapeutic exercises.
- Specific exercise protocols and their application.
- Selected physical therapy testing procedures.
- Working as a member of a healthcare team.
- Patient motivation.
PTA 211 PTA Procedures V (Rehab Applications)
- Neurologic disabilities: stroke, head injuries, MS, spinal cord injuries, and other neurologic diseases.
- Development of treatment programs for orthopaedic patients; upper and lower extremity dysfunctions, lower extremity amputations and injuries to the spine.
- Developing of specific home programs, and instruction in family training.
- Selection of appropriate selective devices and equipment for geriatric, orthopaedic and neurologic patients.
PTA 212 PTA Procedures VI (Pediatric Rehab)
- Laboratory sessions – facilitation of developmental sequence.
- Human development, pediatric assessment tools, pediatric treatment philosophies
PTA 251 Clinical Experience 2
- Supervised clinical experience in various PT sites.
- Hands-on development of previously learned skills.
- Functional activities, documentation, etcetera previously evaluated in a lab.
PTA 252 Clinical Experience 3
- Supervised rotation in a clinic.
- Skills development in functional activities, patient care and documentation.
- Practical experience of coursework previously covered.
PTA 253 Clinical Affiliation (12 credits)
- Full-time Internship – appropriate application of PT techniques and procedures.
- Hands-on; understanding of clinical responsibilities and supervisory relationships and the application of PT procedures.
PTA 254 Clinical Seminar 2
- Discussion seminar and clinical lecture – cultural competence.
- Verbal and written communication.
PTA 255 Clinical Seminar 3
- Survey: Issues regarding teamwork and patient care.
- Adjustment to disability and grief, patient interaction, and ethics.
- Role and responsibilities of the PT and the PTA.
Physical Therapy Assistant Schools – List
Some of the best physical therapy assistant schools which offer Associate Degrees are:
- Brown Mackie College – Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina
- Carrington College – Arizona, New Mexico
- Florida Career College – Florida
- Hesser College – New Hampshire
- Herzing University – Florida
- Kaplan Career Institute – Pennsylvania
- Keiser University – Florida
- Medical Careers Institute – Virginia
- MedTech College – Indiana
- New England Institute of Technology – Rhode Island
- Pima Medical Institute – Arizona, Colorado, Washington
- Remington College – Ohio
- Sanford Brown College – Missouri, Virginia
- South College – Tennessee
- South University Campus – Alabama, Georgia, Florida
Online Physical Therapy Assistant colleges
- Bryan College
- Dawn Career Institute
- Fortis College
- Globe University
- Keller Graduate School of Management
- Liberty University
- Ottawa University
- University of Phoenix
- Virginia College
Whichever physical therapy assistant school you choose to attend, make sure that the program is accredited. Not all Physical Therapy Assistant schools are accredited, and if they are not you are wasting your time because you will not be eligible to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination, in which case you will not be allowed to practise legally.