Approximately 10% of PTAs explore careers as PTs.
Becoming a physical therapist assistant is not a steppingstone to becoming a physical therapist. The PTA curriculum differs from that of the physical therapist and does not provide the needed prerequisites required for physical therapist education. However, approximately 10% of PTAs pursue careers as physical therapists.
Traditionally, physical therapist assistants remain with their first career choice within physical therapy profession. Physical therapists assistants interested in furthering their career usually pursue APTA's PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways program.
For those considering the unique transition from PTA to PT, here are some things to keep in mind.
There are currently three "bridge" educational programs that formally incorporate the PTA's knowledge, skills, and experience into the curriculum.
Bridge programs were developed when the PT degree was at the undergraduate or baccalaureate degree (four years) level, which allowed the few bridge programs to use some of the undergraduate PTA courses toward the physical therapist degree. University rules prohibit graduate programs, like DPT programs, from accepting undergraduate work toward graduate credits.
Some PTA and general education course credits may fulfill prerequisites for PT programs. However, they must typically be less than seven to 10 years old. PTAs who wish to transition to a PT education program may need to complete additional course prerequisites, such as advanced biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, math, and/or electives. Most DPT programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree and some require the Graduate Record Examination.
PT students who were formerly PTAs report that the knowledge, skills, and experiences obtained while working as a PTA contribute greatly to their learning. Although PTAs may easily meet the PT observation hours required by PT programs and have related expertise, it is possible they also will need to complete other volunteer (unpaid) PT observation hours or seek experience in a different clinical setting to be eligible for consideration in the admissions process.
Not all PT programs require observation hours, and admission requirements vary. All applicants to PT education programs should carefully review each program's requirements before applying.
BS Completion Degrees
A growing number of colleges with PTA programs are developing articulation agreements with baccalaureate degree programs within their institution or with other colleges/universities that lead to health-related bachelor’s degrees.
These programs offer PTAs the opportunity to gain advanced knowledge in areas within, e.g., geriatrics, or related to physical therapy, e.g., business administration, education, and/or prepare the PTA to apply to a graduate program in physical therapy. Other trends in physical therapist education include an online component of the curriculum and weekend programs.
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