Physical Therapy Assistants


Education and Training Requirements

High School

You can prepare for this line of work by taking biology, health, and mathematics classes. Psychology, sociology, and even social studies classes will be helpful, because they will give you an understanding of people. And, since you will be working so closely with clients as well as other professionals, you will need excellent communication skills. Therefore, take English courses and other classes that will improve these skills, such as speech.

Postsecondary Training

You will need a degree from an accredited physical therapy assistant program. Accreditation is given by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), which is part of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). These programs, leading to an associate's degree, are usually offered at community and junior colleges. Typically lasting two years, the programs combine academic instruction with supervised clinical practice in a physical therapy setting. The first year of study is typically taken up with general course work, while the second year is focused on professional classes. Classes you can expect to take include mathematics, biology, applied physical sciences, psychology, human growth and development, and physical therapist assistant procedures such as massage, therapeutic exercise, and heat and cold therapy.

Admission to accredited programs is fairly competitive, often with a minimum GPA as well as a minimum score in the college's placement test.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Many states require regulation of physical therapy assistants in the form of registration, certification, or licensure. Typically, graduation from an CAPTE-accredited program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam or state exams are needed for licensing. Because requirements vary by state, you will need to check with your state's licensure board for specific information.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience is critical as a physical therapy assistant and many jobs require it. Clinical experience will begin while in an accredited PTA program.

Physical therapy assistants must have stamina, patience, and determination, but at the same time they must be able to establish effective personal relationships. They should genuinely like and understand people, both under normal conditions and under the stress of illness. An outgoing personality with a sense of humor is highly desirable, as is the ability to instill confidence and enthusiasm in patients. Much of the work of physical retraining and restoring is very repetitive, and assistants may not perceive any progress for long periods of time. At times patients may seem unable or unwilling to cooperate. In such cases, assistants need boundless patience, to appreciate small gains and build on them. When restoration to good health is not attainable, physical therapist assistants must help patients adjust to a different way of life and find ways to cope with their situation. Creativity is an asset to devising methods that help disabled people achieve greater self-sufficiency. Assistants should be flexible and open to suggestions offered by their coworkers and willing and able to follow directions closely.

Physical therapy assistants must be reasonably strong and enjoy physical activity. Manual dexterity and good coordination are needed to adjust equipment and assist patients. Assistants should be able to lift, climb, stoop, and kneel.