Physical Therapy Assistant Degree Programs and Training

Physical therapist assistants are an essential part of the health care industry, helping physical therapists to provide care to patients who may be suffering from neurological disorders, back and neck injuries, or issues related to mobility. PT assistants are required to have the education and background to be able to provide needed skills in a health care setting, whether that's an outpatient clinic, rehabilitation center, long-term term care facility or private practice. An associate degree typically provides physical therapy assistants with the background education and clinical components that they need to give them hands-on skills to be able to work with patients and under the supervision of a physical therapist, though bachelor's degree programs are also available.

Physical therapy assistant degree programs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports that physical therapy assistants (PTAs) need to have at least an associate degree to seek employment. This background education should provide them with the classroom and clinical components needed to work effectively on the job, usually under the guidance of a physical therapist who has advanced skills and a graduate degree. Because a vast amount of background knowledge -- ranging from anatomy to medical terminology to therapeutic techniques -- is necessary to work as a physical therapy assistant, programs are not available in certificate or diploma form, although these can be found for people who are interested in become physical therapy aides.

Graduation from an accredited associate degree program is also important, because this accreditation is typically necessary to become licensed in a state. Licensure is needed for employment in nearly all states. Because of the extensive experience required, physical therapist assistant students usually have two degree options available:

  • Associate degrees. Physical therapy assistants who complete associate degrees generally finish in about two years, although this may require some summer classes as five semesters is usually needed, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). These programs provide students with basic knowledge about anatomy and physiology, kinesiology and neuroscience. In fact, the APTA reports that about 75 percent of PTA curriculum generally consists of classroom study while the other 25 percent focuses on clinical education. Students generally gain about 16 weeks of full-time clinical experience.
  • Bachelor's degrees. Physical therapy assistant programs at the bachelor's level are typically available to students who already have completed an associate degree in PTA and are interested in a completion program for a four-year degree. Graduation from an accredited two-year program is typically a requirement for admission into a bachelor's level program, and often licensure is the state is required for admission. Like with an associate degree in physical therapy assisting, these programs provide students with both classroom and clinical experiences, and some degrees are even available online.

Physical therapy assistant training

Schools that offer physical therapy assistant programs typically have their own unique curriculum, which may even be reflective of physical therapy assistant certification or licensing requirements in the state. Often, there are core topics that are covered no matter what school a student completes their studies in. The following subjects may reflect areas covered in a physical therapy assistant program:

  • Administrative Procedures
  • Fundamentals of Disease
  • Kinesiology
  • Medical and Surgical Conditions
  • Motor Development and Aging
  • Medical terminology
  • Neurological Rehabilitation
  • Professional Issues
  • PTA Techniques
  • Therapeutic Exercises

Clinical internships are generally part of any degree program, and these give students opportunities to work in a real-life setting and become comfortable working with patients as well under the supervision of a physical therapist. A one-credit licensure preparation or review course may also be offered as part of a degree program to help students to prepare for state licensure.

Career outlook for physical therapy assistants

Job opportunities for physical therapist assistants are on the rise, due to a growing Baby Boomer population that is staying more active and, as a result, in need of more care, according to the BLS. Physical therapy assistants may help these and other patients with assistance doing prescribed exercises or by using massage and stretching to provide them relief. From 2012 to 2022, jobs for physical therapy assistants are expected to grow by 41 percent, which is much faster than average, and could lead to the creation of nearly 30,000 new positions over this time. The national median annual wage for these professionals, as of May 2013, was $53,360, or $25.65 per hour, according to the BLS.


Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy Assistant Program, Pima Medical Institute, http://pmi.edu/Programs/Bachelors/Bachelor-of-Science-Physical-Therapist-Assistant

Physical Therapy Assistant, Associate of Applied Science, ECPI University, http://ecpi.smartcatalogiq.com/en/2014/Catalog/Program-Information/School-of-Health-Science-Medical-Careers-Institute/Physical-Therapist-Assistant/Physical-Therapist-Assistant-Associate-of-Applied-Science-in-Health-Science

Physical Therapist Assistant Program Details, Pima Medical Institute, http://pmi.edu/Programs/Associate/Physical-Therapist-Assistant/LearnMore

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm

Physical Therapist Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm

Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Education Overview, American Physical Therapy Association, http://www.apta.org/PTAEducation/Overview/

Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Careers Overview, American Physical Therapy Association, http://www.apta.org/PTACareers/Overview/

Physical Therapy Assistant Schools