Physical Therapist Assistant Schools
Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) work under the guidance of a physical therapist to help restore patients to the strength they enjoyed before illness or injury. PTAs guide patients through exercises, provide them with therapeutic massage, and use other healing methods associated with physical therapy, such as heat and electrical technologies, and mechanical traction. Other job requirements include working closely with a supervisor, the physical therapist; lifting and moving heavy weights; and careful record keeping. Around 70% of physical therapist assistants work in hospitals and private therapy practices, with the remainder in places like home health care, sports facilities and school systems.
It is an expanding field; the Bureau of Labor statistics predicts a 45% growth in the number of physical therapist assistants entering the workforce in the coming decade. As the population ages and turns increasingly to physical therapy, the therapists will require skilled assistance to keep their patients in good shape. In the next ten years, more than 50,000 graduates will leave physical therapist assistant programs with degrees in hand. There are 280 programs in the United States accredited to confer these degrees to physical therapist assistants.
A physical therapist aide is a different, though broadly similar, position. Aides generally do not require post-secondary education, and instead learn their skills on the job. The pay for physical therapist aides tends to be lower than that for physical therapist assistants. Physical therapist assistants do not usually transition to the role of physical therapists. Physical therapists require a more extensive educational background.
AccreditationThe accreditation body for both physical therapist and physical therapist assistant programs is the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Only by graduating from a CAPTE-accredited program can a physical therapist assistant take the licensure exam, a requirement in most states for working as a PTA. Only Colorado and Hawaii allow unlicensed PTAs to work. However, a degree from an accredited school in those states allow the student to take the licensure exam.
CAPTE accreditation indicates that a program meets basic standards of quality. To learn more about the kind of education at each program, look closely at particulars such as the licensing exam pass rate, the graduation rate and other factors. CAPTE provides much of this information on its website. Additionally, it notes how many graduates from each accredited program are employed in the field six months after taking their degree.
LicensingThe licensing test for PTAs is the National Physical Therapist Assistant Examination (NPTE), a 200-question multiple-choice exam. In 2011, 85% percent of students taking the PTA licensure test for the first time passed. Check the pass rates for prospective schools to see whether they exceed this number. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT), which administers the licensing exam, posts ultimate pass reports for all accredited schools. This number includes all the students who took and passed the test, including those taking after an initial failure. Schools that fare poorly by this metric likely cannot give their students a solid basis for a career as a PTA.
FacilitiesPhysical therapy, though always rooted in the hard work of recuperative exercise, is a field that requires keeping up with an ever-changing body of knowledge. A well-prepared physical therapist assistant will be familiar with recent developments, and will have hands-on experience with newer technologies. Look for programs affiliated with state-of-the-art facilities to develop skills employers want to provide to their clientele. These new technologies will soon become the standard; a person trained in them is prepared to be competitive within her field.
A program affiliated with hospitals or practices that offer a breadth of training opportunities gives students the chance to become familiar with different technologies. For example, if the clinical component of a program includes time at a facility that cares for children, another that attends to the elderly, and one dedicated to athletic injuries, the student develops a versatile set of skills. Working within a program affiliated with a large hospital also allows the student to work under physical therapists with varying approaches and to see first hand a range of injury types.
Degree Programs OfferedThe standard degree for physical therapist assistants is an Associate in Applied Science Degree. A physical therapist assistant program is typically two years long, with an average of four months dedicated to clinical practice. The courses include basic medical training, including anatomy and physiology courses. A number of accredited schools offer online PTA degrees; these, however, require some period of residence on campus to fulfill the clinical component of the courses.
Finding the Best Program for YouResearch potential schools by asking current students what they think of the education they are receiving, how the faculty responds to their questions, and how confident they feel about their skills and their futures. For another perspective, ask potential employers what graduates from this program are like, and whether the school seems to provide its students with what they need for success on the job.