Today’s healthcare sector is experiencing a robust and growing demand for qualified physical therapist techs (PTAs). In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently estimates that by 2022 there will be at nearly 101,000 job openings in the nation – that’s a lot of jobs available and coming.
This number represents an increase of over 41 percent when compared to the number of job openings for PTAs in the early two thousand teens. This makes becoming a PTA extremely attractive for those individuals seeking a long-term and secure career in America’s healthcare sector.
However, becoming a PTA does require a substantial investment of time and effort. In order to obtain a PTA’s license the candidate must fulfill the following requirements:
- Be at least 18 years of age and have completed high school or an equivalent program.
- Successfully complete the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for physical therapy assistants. In some states, this test may be referred to as the National Physical Therapy Assistant Examination (NPTAE).
- Some states require the completion of a state jurisprudence exam in order to demonstrate that the candidate is conversant with any state regulations regarding PTAs.
- Most states require that all applicants submit to a criminal background check.
- Other measures include submitting a complete application, including any previous experience the candidate may have had as a PTA and whether he or she has ever been licensed in another state.
Preparing for Training
The most important part of becoming a PTA is to select an appropriate program. By doing so the student can ensure that he or she is prepared for the challenges all PTAs face. In general, a wide range of public and private community colleges, vocational training centers and adult education programs offer PTA programs and the appropriate books.
Very Important Step: Verifying the Program’s Accreditation Status
The first step any student should take when he or she is evaluating a program is to determine if it is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). In most cases, a state will not accept completion of a non-accredited program as fulfilling the educational requirement for a PTA license. For this reason, a student should only attend a program that is accredited and in good standing wit the CAPTE.
Foreign programs are not accredited by the CAPTE, and must be evaluated on an individual basis. Any student who is currently attending or who plans to attend a foreign PTA program should check with the relevant state licensure board to determine what information will be required.
It is important to note that a state will require that any foreign program be substantially equal to a CAPTE accredited program.
Furthermore, the evaluation process may result in substantial delays in the licensure process. For this reason, it is vital that foreign students maintain regular contact with the state licensing agency in order to remain current with any regulatory changes that may impact them.
While many programs are offered on a traditional schedule, a growing number of schools have part-time and distance learning options for their students. This allows a student who is currently working or otherwise unable to attend classes on a regular schedule to complete the PTA program at his or her own pace.
Students who are working, caring for family members or who have other obligations should check with their school’s administration to determine what type of part-time programs are available.
In addition, online and distance learning programs can allow the student to complete most of his or her coursework from home. This can be especially useful for students who have limited mobility or live inconveniently far from the school. However, some classes may have lab or clinical components which demand that all students be physically present. For this reason, a student who is considering a distance-learning program should be certain to verify when he or she will have to be physically present.
After graduation, the student must pass the NPTE in order to become eligible for a PTA’s license. It is important that the student prepare for the NPTE, as many states have limitations on how many times a candidate may repeat the NPTE. Students who fail the examination several times may be required to take remedial classes.
Some states have a hard limit on the number of times a student may attempt to pass the NPTE after which the student may be permanently barred from becoming a licensed PTA in that state. It is important to note that most states count all attempts to pass the NPTE, rather than only those attempts that took place within the state.
For this reason, a student who has failed the NPTE several times may find that he or she is no longer eligible to become a licensed PTA in some states, even if he or she is currently licensed in other states.
Some PTA programs offer dedicated classes and study sessions to prepare the student for the NPTE. These classes and sessions can be an excellent way to ensure that the student can easily pass the NPTE. In some cases, these classes can include full-scale practice tests.
This can allow the student to evaluate his or her ability to successfully pass the exam under the same time constraints that he or she will face during the official NPTE.
Finally, many programs offer internships for qualified students. An internship allows the student to work alongside licensed professionals in a functioning medical facility. In addition to the experience an internship can provide, many internships are paid internships, which can help defray the student’s educational costs.
Perhaps most importantly, a successful internship can help establish the professional and personal ties that will enable the student to have a successful career as a PTA.
In some cases, the organization offering the internship may choose to offer a permanent job to a successful intern. In other cases, the organization may refer former interns to other groups that currently have career openings for new PTAs.
Ultimately, becoming a PTA can be an excellent personal and professional choice. Licensed PTAs enjoy a career that is both financially and personally rewarding.
By seeking out an accredited program and taking full advantage of the opportunities it offers, a student can maximize his or her chances of obtaining a rewarding job as a PTA.