How To Become A Physical Therapist Assistant

How To Become A Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapist assistants help care for patients under the direction of a physical therapist. They may help patients through a variety of therapeutic methods, including ultrasound, electrical stimulation and massage. They offer exercise and instruction in areas such as balance and walking with or without the use of adaptive equipment. Because physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists, they often document patient responses and report treatment results to the physical therapist. Read more below to find out how to become a physical therapist assistant.

What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

On the job, physical therapist assistants will have a number of different duties, but most of these will relate to providing direct relief and therapy to patients, under the supervision of a physical therapist. In general, physical therapist assistants may be expected to:

  • Apply hot or cold compresses to promote healing.
  • Use ultrasound treatments to facilitate relief.
  • Demonstrate specific exercises as part of a treatment plan and help clients to do them.
  • Show patients how to use various types of equipment, including wheelchairs or walkers.
  • Provide clear instructions to patients so that they understand what they should be doing at home.

Physical Therapist Assistant Specializations

You can pursue additional skills from the American Physical Therapy Association in a variety of physical therapy specializations, including the following:

  • Musculoskeletal
  • Neuromuscular
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Geriatric
  • Pediatric

After years of physical therapy practice, you could also advance to administrative positions or become an instructor in a physical therapy assistant program.

Steps to Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant

Becoming a physical therapist assistant includes a combination of formal schooling and on-the-job training. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you should take the following steps to start your career in the field:

  1. Get a high school diploma. If you do not have a significant background in the health sciences, especially anatomy, biology and exercise science, take some classes at your local university or community college before jumping into your postsecondary schooling.
  2. Earn your associate degree. Most positions require an associate degree in physical therapy assistance from a program accredited by The American Physical Therapy Association's Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
  3. Get licnesed. While holding a license is not required to work as a physical therapy assistant, most states do require that all aspiring PTAs graduate from an accredited institution and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). Some states require a state license as well as continuing education studies. Check with the licensing board in your state to obtain detailed requirements

How to Become a GREAT Physical Therapist Assistant

As with all health care professions, a true desire to help patients get better is key. To succeed as a physical therapy assistant, you must also enjoy working with people, even when they are in pain. You should be able to work well in a team, be able to take direction, remain highly organized and pay attention to detail. Other ways to advance your career include:

  • Mentorship: Find work in a place that truly inspires you. Ideally, your employer - or the physical therapist you work with - should be your mentor.
  • Professional Association: Join a professional association, such as a local chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association
  • Build Your Skills: Continuing education is advisable in any field. As research into injury recovery discovers new findings, it is important to keep abreast of changes. Online seminars can be a low-cost option to continue learning.
  • Be Well-Read: Read applicable journals, magazines and books about physical therapy
  • Exercise: The more athletic you are, the more you will understand the body and how it works, which should translate into a better understanding of your patients and their needs

Resources for Physical Therapist Assistants


  1. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapist-assistants-and-aides.htm
  2. Initial License Requirements, Federation of State Board of Physical Therapy, https://www.fsbpt.org/Portals/0/documents/free-resources/JLRG_RequirementsInitialLicensure_20140416.pdf
  3. Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Education Overview, American Physical Therapy Association, http://www.apta.org/PTAEducation/Overview/
  4. Physical Therapist Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm
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