Physical Therapy Assistant Schools
Physical therapy assistants are one of the many allied healthcare jobs on the rise in the face of high demand for medical care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this field is expected to grow above the average rate, and qualified workers have excellent job prospects. The median wage in 2008 was $46,146 per year, with the highest bracket earning upwards of $63,000. The lowest earners were paid around $28,000 that year.
As the name suggests, a physical therapy assistant helps a physical therapist deliver services to patients. This can involve teaching patients how to use support devices, offering tips on rehabilitative exercise, and administering procedures such as electrical stimulation and massage. They also record patient progress and responses, and write up reports for the therapist. This sets them apart from physical therapist aides, who do mostly physical work (such as transporting patients between rooms) and clerical work (such as answering phones and distributing forms).
In most areas, physical therapist assistants are legally required to have at least an associate degree in the field. The program takes about two years and includes a mix of on-the-job experience and academic courses. Students learn anatomy, physiology, and psychology alongside general education courses such as English and algebra. Hands-on training requires clinical work, where students are introduced to first aid, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and emergency field treatment. They are also taught on-the-job skills such as interpersonal relations and counseling.
Physical therapy assistant schools are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, part of the American Physical Therapy Association. As of 2009, there were 223 accredited physical therapy assistant programs in the U.S.
Before practicing, physical therapy assistants usually need a license, certification, or registration, depending on the state they intend to work. They must also pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, and sometimes a separate State Exam. Some states also set parameters for maintaining licensure, such as taking additional courses or continuing education credits. These rules are set by the state’s licensure board.
Many physical therapy assistant schools offer these courses as a way for students to boost their qualifications and therefore their job and salary prospects. The APTA gives additional credit to those who have certifications in specialized physical therapy, such as pediatric, geriatric, cardio-pulmonary, neuromuscular, musculo-skeletal, and integumentary (skin, hair and nails). Some students also expand their knowledge in non-clinical fields, such as managing healthcare centers or joining the academe.