This article covers how you should go about selecting a degree to become a physical therapy assistant. We will describe what a physical therapy assistant does, the type of degree they need to get, and the most common types of courses they will take. We also will provide you with information about good online physical therapy assistant programs.
What Is a Physical Therapy Assistant Degree?
A physical therapy assistant degree is either an associate’s that a physical therapy assistant gets to work under the supervision of a physical therapist. This is an appropriate degree to get if you want to help physical therapy patients to recover from various illnesses and injuries to regain their ability to move and to reduce their pain.
A physical therapy assistant degree will teach you the skills to provide direct care to many types of patients. Physical therapy assistants often also need to do tasks that are not directly related to patient care such as setting up the area of treatment, cleaning and moving patients from place to place.
With a degree as a physical therapy assistant, you will work every day with physical therapists to provide much needed care to your patients. Your degree will teach you how to treat patients through appropriate exercise, massage, gait and balance training.
As you are earning your degree, you also will learn the skills to handle the following key tasks:
- Watch patients before, during and after therapy. You will learn how to note the status of the patient and report it to a PT
- Help your patients to do specific types of exercises as part of the care plan
- Treat patients with many different types of PT techniques
- Educate the patient and family about what to do after treatment is done
After you get your associate’s as a PT assistant, you will need to be licensed and certified. This is done by taking the National Physical Therapy Exam for PT assistants that is handled by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
Some of the most common courses in this type of associate’s program are:
- Basic human anatomy and physiology
- Introduction to PT
- Therapeutic exercise
- Advanced modalities
- Clinical practicum
- Survey of human development
- Medical terminology
- Care and prevention of athletic injuries
- Neurological disorders
- Clinical affiliation
A common path with a PT assistant program is to earn this degree, work for several years, then get a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree to become a full PT.
Why Get a Physical Therapy Assistant Degree?
The biggest reason that people want to earn this degree is that it allows you to work in a very popular and growing field, with more demand expected very soon. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that job growth in this field will increase by an amazing 41% in the next eight years. It is anticipated that the overall demand for physical therapy services will be driven by the aging population who is living much longer than ever before and is staying more active in retirement.
Also, physical therapy assistants make a median wage of $55,100, with the top ten percent earning more than $76,000 per year.
Another reason to consider becoming a PT assistant is that you can eventually move on to earn your Doctor of Physical Therapy degree (DPT) and earn more than $80,000 per year in most positions. Job demand for physical therapists will increase by 34% by 2024 as well.
Physical Therapy Assistant Programs
To earn your physical therapy assistant degree, you need to take an associate’s degree program at a nearby community college or other type of college. Most of these programs may be completed in two years if you attend full time.
For example, St. Philip’s College in San Antonio TX offers a Physical Therapist Assistant program that will prepare the student to work under the supervision of a physical therapist in a clinic, hospital, rehab unit, sports medicine facility or nursing home.
The main responsibility that you will be prepared for at this type of community college program is to work with patients under the supervision of a full PT to help the patients to restore motion, strengthen their muscles, boost circulation, relieve their pain and restore a sense of physical independence.
You will learn the skills that you need to treat patients with heat, water, cold, sound and even electricity. With these types of skills, you will teach your patients how to improve their strength, balance and gait.
As with many of these local, associate’s degree PT assistant programs, this program has lecture and laboratory courses in both physical therapy science and procedures. It also has clinical education classes that you can do in settings where PT is provided each day. Through these labs, students are taught important PT skills such as thermal treatments, electrotherapy, therapeutic exercises and how to use exercise equipment with PT patients safely.
As with bachelor degree programs, community colleges that offer associate’s degrees should be accredited by one of the regional accreditation agencies that are recognized by the US Department of Education. These include:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
You also should look for a PT assistant program that is accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association or APTA.
By being accredited, you know that the PT assistant associate’s program has met high quality standards, and that your degree will be valued by your future employers.
Earning an associate’s degree as a physical therapy assistant is a good move for many people because it allows you to earn a good salary after taking just two years of classes. Plus, after you work as an assistant for a period of time, you can eventually start to earn your Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, which will put you on a fantastic career path with no end of good jobs on the horizon.