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How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant in 2022

Working in physical therapy is an incredibly rewarding career. A great physical therapist can make a real difference in a client’s life, whether it’s treating a small sports injury or something more serious. And with an increased awareness of health and wellness over the last few years, now there’s never been a better time to join this field.

But no one starts as a full physical therapist. There are a few steps to complete along the way, including becoming a physical therapist assistant

So, if you think this might be the career for you, read on and learn how to become a physical therapist assistant.

What Does A Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

What Does A Physical Therapist Assistant Do

A physical therapist assistant answers to the physical therapist in charge. They help out where needed, with various tasks around the clinic. This could involve teaching patients to use walkers, encouraging strength training and exercises, or performing a massage to assist with pain reduction.

Is it an important job?

Yes! Just because it’s an assistant role, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. A PT assistant is crucial in ensuring the smooth running of a clinic. The head therapist can’t do it all and relies on their assistants to keep things going. And they don’t just take care of minor tasks either – a PT assistant is vital in improving patient health.

How Much Does A PTA Make?

How Much Does A PTA Make?

The latest information from the US Bureau of labor statistics says a physical therapist assistant earns around $49,180 per year. That works out at about $23.64 per hour. OK, it’s not the highest rate of pay you’ve ever seen, but it isn’t too shabby either.

And don’t forget…

Many people don’t remain assistant physical therapists forever. They generally work their way up to become a full, or even head, physical therapist. So, while it may be a little lower than you might expect, it usually leads to a much more highly-paid position.

And besides, this is a fast-growing occupation. PT assistants are in high demand. At a time when many other industries are precarious, jobs in physical therapy are pretty secure.

How Long Does It Take To Become A PTA?

As you might expect, there’s quite a bit of training involved in becoming a physical therapy assistant. Schooling alone takes, on average, two years. Then there are additional training courses as well as 2000 clinic hours needed if you wish to go into certain specialties.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that long. Think about it; a bachelor’s degree typically takes four years. Plus, some people spend even more time doing master’s or PHDs. So, spending a couple of years getting fully qualified isn’t so bad after all.

How To Become A Physical Therapist Assistant

No one can jump straight into being a physical therapist assistant. Instead, there are several steps a budding PTA needs to take to get fully qualified. Each step needs to be completed in full; otherwise, you can kiss that license goodbye.

Step 1: Finding a program

Finding a program

The first stage in training is simple: find an accredited physical therapist assistant program. These programs typically take two years. Afterward, not only will you be qualified to start your physical therapy career, but you’ll get an associate’s degree as well.

The American Physical Therapy Association has all the information you need. Search by state to find a course in your area or by matriculation date if time matters more than location. It also has details of international courses in case you fancy a semester abroad!

Step 2: Take the licensing exam

Next up is the National Physical Therapy Exam. Once you’ve passed that, you need to get a license from your state. Regardless of your location, the exam is tricky and requires a serious amount of knowledge. This isn’t a test that you can simply cram for in one night; physical therapy assistants need to know their stuff.

While the exam is the same nationwide, the cost and process of getting licensed varies from state to state. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy can help with any queries or confusion. This organization can help you register for the exam as well as assist with the licensing procedure in your state.

Step 3: Clinic hours

Clinic hours

OK, you’ve done the course and gotten your license. Congratulations! But it’s not time to start working as a full-time physical therapy assistant yet.

It’s time to put what you learned in school into practice. And the more hours you have under your belt, the more likely it is that you’ll get a good job. This step could also be taken while you’re studying. Just ask at some local clinics about volunteering or even an internship.

Step 4: Specialize

Many physical therapist assistants can earn even more money if they specialize in a particular aspect of medicine. And there are plenty to choose from. If you have a way with children, then pediatrics could be a good route to take. Others may prefer to go into functional training or oncology.

The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties can help. This website contains incredibly useful advice on how to choose a specialty and then study it. It also has refresher courses for those who need to maintain their certification over time.

How Much Does It Cost To Become A PTA?

How Much Does It Cost To Become A PTA?

Any type of education after public high school costs money; there’s no way around it. But some types of higher education are more expensive than others. A bachelor’s degree, for example, is likely to set you around $27,000 for just one year!

Is PTA training expensive too?

Happily, becoming a physical therapy assistant costs a lot less than a bachelor’s degree. That initial two-year associate’s degree averages out at just $3700 per year. Then any additional courses you choose to do will vary by specialty and location.

Being A Physical Therapy Assistant – Common Questions

1 What is the difference between a physical therapy assistant and a physical therapy aide?

What is the difference between a physical therapy assistant and a physical therapy aide?

Aides provide far less hands-on treatment than assistants do. An aide’s duties are more support-based and may include various cleaning tasks, helping patients in and out of the clinic, and paperwork. The pay is also less than an assistant’s, averaging about $28450 per year.

Getting an education

And aides need far fewer qualifications too. There’s no need for an associate’s degree here, and anyone can become an aide with a high school diploma or GED. Becoming an aide is an awesome springboard for anyone hoping for a career in physical therapy who might not yet have the qualifications to do so.

2 What is the national physical therapy exam like?

It’s fairly tough. You’ll need to put in the time and effort to prepare for it. Don’t expect an easy ride just because it only requires an associate’s degree.

3 How is it graded?

The exam is administered entirely on a computer. There are five sections with 50 questions each, making a total of 250 questions. Candidates must pass with a minimum grade of 600 to get their physical therapy assistant license.

4 How long is a physical therapy assistant license valid for?

Once qualified, your license will last for two years. After that, you’ll need to renew it, and may have to complete a refresher course to check that you still know your stuff. Again, this varies by state, so contact your local authority for more details.

5 How many people pass the exam each year?

Good news! Although it’s difficult, the national physical therapy assistant exam has a pretty high pass rate. A huge 83% of candidates were successful in 2020, so as long as you put the work in, there’s no reason you won’t do well too.

Additional Therapy Info And Advice

I’ve got a few alternatives for you to look at, such as my Physical Therapy Technician Job Description, my Physiotherapist Job Description, my Occupational Therapist Job Description, and my Massage Therapist Job Description, or perhaps you’d like to know How To Become A Physical Therapist, or How To Become A Massage Therapist.

Next, why not check out these guides on being a PTA? Let’s start with the Therapeutic Exercise for Physical Therapy Assistants: Techniques for Intervention (PointPhysical Therapy Clinical Handbook for PTAs, as well as the Physical Therapy Assistant, and Dreeben-Irimia’s Introduction to Physical Therapy Practice for Physical Therapist Assistants, all available online in 2022.

If you’re looking into different fields of physical therapy, you should include the Introduction to Physical Therapy, and the intriguing, Neurologic Interventions for Physical Therapy, and Orthopaedic Physical Therapy, as well as Physical Rehabilitation, or maybe take a look at the Acute Care Handbook for Physical Therapists, and The American Physical Therapy Association Book of Body Maintenance and Repair.

How To Become A Physical Therapist Assistant – Final Thoughts

For those interested in sport, the body, and science, working as a physical therapy assistant is a great career choice. Not only will you get to help people, but it’s also interesting too, and there are plenty of opportunities for advancement. Plus, if you decide to specialize in a certain area, then those opportunities will only increase.

If you think this could be the route for you, then remember; that hard work pays off. Get as many clinic hours as you can, take every extra certification available, and study hard for that exam. 

You’ll soon find yourself with the job of your dream, living life to the full!

All the very best working as a Physical Therapist Assistant!

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About Linda Shepard

Linda is employed by one of the biggest employment agencies in San Francisco and has over 15 years of experience in finding her clients their dream job. She prides herself on being able to match the right person to the right position, which inevitably creates a great working relationship for the employee and the company moving forward.

When she isn't writing articles or working, she enjoys gardening, socializing, and going for long walks on the beach and in nature.

She lives with her boyfriend Carl and their cat, Fluffy.

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