Physical Therapist Assistant Programs And Education Process
Physical therapy has become an increasingly central part of any program of medical care. Physical therapy has proven to be vital in treating individuals who are recovering from a traumatic accident, injured athletes, or elderly individuals seeking to counteract the effects of a degenerative illness.
For this reason, physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are finding their services in demand by a variety of institutions, ranging from hospitals to rehabilitation centers.
This has resulted in a growing need for new physical therapist assistants that has made this field very appealing to those interested in a career in healthcare.
Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant
All states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico currently require that all practicing PTAs be licensed by the relevant state agency.
In addition, a PTA must be licensed in the state that he or she is currently working in, even if the PTA holds a valid license in another state.
The requirements to obtain a license vary from state to state and a PTA candidate should check with his or her state’s licensing body for the current licensure requirements.
However, most states include the following steps that a PTA candidate must complete before he or she is considered eligible for licensure:
- Be at least 18 years of age and have obtained a valid high school diploma or the equivalent.
- Complete a PTA program at a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredited institution.
- Take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).
- In those states that require it, take and pass the state jurisprudence examination.
In addition, many states require that an individual seeking to become a licensed PTA submit to a criminal background check.
While each state has its own guidelines to determine what type of offenses may prevent an individual from obtaining a PTA license, anyone who has been convicted of a crime should contact their state’s licensing authority for further information before attempting to become a PTA.
Select a state of interest from the map or list of states below to learn about requirements, resources and schools in that particular state.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Most physical therapy assistant programs are offered by community colleges, vocational training centers and adult education programs.
In general, it takes approximately two years for a full-time student to finish a PTA program, after which he or she will receive an associate’s degree.
While completing his or her program, the student will receive an in depth education in the practice of physical therapy.
Physical therapy programs will train their students in the following areas:
- Human anatomy, focusing on bone and muscle structure.
- Common diseases and injuries that may require the use of physical therapy.
- How to work with physical therapists, physicians and other medical professionals as part of a complete healthcare team.
- How to safely assist the patient in carrying out his or her physical therapy.
- The use of physical therapy aids such as hot water baths, wheelchairs and other devices.
- How to produce accurate reports for the supervising physician.
- How state law regulates the PTA’s duties and responsibilities.
In addition, most physical therapy programs have a number of prerequisites that the student must complete before he or she can enter the program.
These prerequisites include demonstrating a firm grasp of the written and spoken English language, in addition to demonstrating a command of basic math skills.
In some cases, a student may be able to qualify for entry by successfully completing a test to demonstrate his or her competence in these fields.
In addition to full-time students, a rising number of PTA programs offer part-time and online options for those students who cannot attend traditionally scheduled classes. Part-time students have the freedom to schedule their classes for evenings or weekends. This can be especially useful for those students who are currently working or who have family members that require supervision.
Online classes largely eliminate the need for the student to physically attend class sessions. By using the Internet, the student can view recordings of class lectures, complete homework assignments and even interact with the instructor via email or chat.
This can be especially useful for students who live inconveniently far from the school. However, some class sessions, most notably those with a lab or clinical component, may require that all students be physically present.
In addition, some schools require that final examinations be taken at the school in order to ensure the accuracy of the final test results. Any student who is planning to attend an online PTA program should be certain to verify if he or she will be required to be physically present at the campus at any point during the program.
Some programs also offer the opportunity for qualified students to enter into internship programs. These programs allow the student to work in a functioning physical therapy facility, providing service to patients under the supervision of licensed medical professionals.
Depending on the state, the student may be restricted in what services he or she can offer, but even in those cases, an internship can provide excellent training for a PTA candidate.
Choosing an Accredited Program
It is extremely important that the student only attend a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). The CAPTE is the national accrediting agency for physical therapist and physical therapist assistant programs.
In most cases, a state licensing agency will not accept a degree conferred by a non-accredited program. For that reason, a potential student should always verify that his or her program is currently in good standing with the CAPTE.
Completing the NPTE
The NPTE or the National Physical Therapy Examination is the national test that is used to verify that PTA candidates have the academic and practical skills needed to provide effective care to their patients.
The NPTE for physical therapist assistants includes 200 questions covering all aspects of the practice of physical therapy.
Individuals taking the test are given a total of four hours time to complete the examination. This test is closed book and no study materials may be used during the examination.
If the student fails to pass the NPTE, he or she may retake it. However, this will result in a substantial delay in the licensure process. In addition, the student is not allowed to retake the examination an unlimited number of times.
A number of states have a hard limit on how many times a student may attempt to retake the exam. Students who fail to successfully complete the NPTE will not be allowed to obtain licensure in that state. It is important to note that most states count all attempts to pass the NPTE, even if the test was taken in another state.
This could lead to a situation where a licensed PTA may find himself or herself ineligible to obtain a license in a state that has more restrictive guidelines regarding retaking the NPTE.
In addition to a hard limit, a number of states will demand that candidates who have failed a certain number of test attempts provide the state licensure board with a program of remedial training. This is generally intended to ensure that the candidate understands the reason for his or her difficulty with the test and is taking adequate measures to rectify the deficiency.
It is extremely important that all PTA candidates ensure that they understand their state’s policy regarding retaking the NPTE. In addition, a candidate should only take the NPTE when he or she is confident of passing the examination.
These examinations test the candidates understanding of how the law regulates the practice of physical therapy and the duties, rights and responsibilities of a PTA.
It is very important that the PTA understand both the rights and limitations the law places on his or her actions, as a regulatory violation can result in severe professional and legal sanctions, including the possible loss of the PTA’s license. In extreme cases, the PTA may face criminal charges.
Ultimately, becoming a PTA can be an excellent choice for an individual who is interested in a personally and professionally rewarding career in the healthcare sector.
Not only are PTAs well compensated, but they also play a major role in providing high quality healthcare to their fellow Americans. For this reason, a licensed PTA can enjoy the respect and satisfaction that comes from helping to provide medical care to his or her neighbors.
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