Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Education Overview

Physical therapist assistant (PTA) education, obtained in a CAPTE-accredited two-year associate degree program, prepares graduates for taking the national licensure examination and entering the field of physical therapy with the required knowledge, skills, and behaviors of a PTA. Licensure or certification is required in most states to work as a PTA.

Purpose of Physical Therapist Assistant Education

The purpose of PTA education is to graduate knowledgeable, competent, self-assured, adaptable, and service-oriented patient/client care providers. PTA education prepares the graduate to perform selected components of intervention and data collection and assess the patient's/client's safety and response to the interventions provided under the direction and supervision of the physical therapist in an ethical, legal, safe, and effective manner. Additionally, graduates of PTA programs must be prepared to communicate with other members of the health care deliver team; interact with members of the patient's/client's family and caregivers; and work cooperatively with other health care providers. Graduates are prepared to participate with the physical therapist in teaching other health care providers and providing psychosocial support for patients/clients and their families and caregivers with recognition of individual, cultural, and economic differences.

Physical Therapist Assistant Degree

Entry-level physical therapist assistant education programs are offered at the associate degree level.

Curriculum

The length of a PTA program is typically 2 years (5 semesters) consisting of general education course, physical therapy courses, and clinical education. Primary physical therapy content areas in the curriculum may include, but are not limited to, anatomy & physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, clinical pathology, behavioral sciences, communication, and ethics/values. Approximately seventy-five percent (75%) of the PTA curriculum comprises classroom (didactic) and lab study and the remaining 25 percent (25%) is dedicated to clinical education. PT students spend on average 16 weeks in full-time clinical education experiences.

Choosing the Right Program

It is extremely important that you attend an accredited program. (The only recognized accrediting agency for PTA education is CAPTE.) You will be able to sit for the licensure exam only if you have graduated from a CAPTE-accredited program; without a license you will be unable to work in all states except Colorado and Hawaii. Check APTA's Accredited PT & PTA Programs Directory for a list and descriptions of PTA education programs. Some programs offer part of their curriculum online. To access the list of programs that have a large online component, search the database using key code A5. A visit to one or more programs is also a valuable means for selecting the programs that best meet your educational goals and personal needs. You should consider a variety of factors when researching PTA education programs, including:

  • Program structure and curriculum
  • Types of clinical education and training opportunities
  • Faculty composition and cohesiveness (years working together)
  • Student demographics
  • Facilities (eg, classrooms and labs)
  • Campus setting (eg, rural, urban, suburban)
  • Geographic location and distance from home/family
  • Size of the college
  • Size of PTA program's entering class
  • Licensure pass rates
  • Employability
  • Admission requirements
  • Cost and financial aid opportunities
  • Extracurricular activities

In an effort to compare the above factors, you may wish to:

  • Survey current students and recent graduates of the program
  • Interview employers who hire graduates and ask about program strengths and weaknesses

Ranking

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) does not rank PTA education programs. Programs are accredited by CAPTE, which assures quality in physical therapy education. Graduation from an accredited program is currently required for eligibility to sit for the licensure examination for physical therapist assistants in all states in which licensure is required. Licensure/certification is not required in Colorado or Hawaii.

Tuition and Fees

The mean annual tuition and fee rates for PTA programs in 2008 were as follows:

  • Public In-State: $7,816 
  • Private: $26,493 

Check the database of accredited programs and contact the PTA education program directly about financial aid opportunities.

  • Last Updated: 3/28/2013
  • Contact: pta@apta.org
  • Members Only = Members Only
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