September 30, 2023
Becoming a physical therapist assistant is an essential career path in the healthcare industry. This article highlights the educational requirements necessary to enroll in PTA programs and provides insight into what the job entails. It also includes tips on how to succeed as a PTA and discusses the positive economic outlook for the profession.


If you have a passion for healthcare and helping people recover from injuries or illnesses, then becoming a physical therapist assistant might be the perfect career for you. A physical therapist assistant works directly with patients, helping them to improve their range of motion and reduce physical pain. In this article, we will break down the steps necessary to become a physical therapist assistant and highlight some essential tips to help you succeed in this rewarding career.

Breaking Down the Steps to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

To become a licensed physical therapist assistant, the first step is to earn an associate’s degree from an accredited institution. Physical therapy assistant programs take two years to complete and include both classroom work and hands-on clinical experiences. You will study human anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, and medical terminology among other subjects. Some programs are available online, but most are hybrid, which means they require some time in a traditional classroom setting or on-campus lab work.

After graduating, aspiring physical therapist assistants must pass a state licensure exam and receive certification from the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). Certification requirements vary by state, so check with your local licensing agency for specific rules and regulations related to becoming a licensed physical therapist assistant (PTA).

Most states require PTAs to complete a certain number of clinical hours under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist (PT). This is an essential component of any PTA program because it gives students hands-on experience working with real patients in a clinical setting. During these clinical experiences, you will learn how to correctly take vital signs, assist with therapeutic exercise, and perform other essential duties.

The job outlook for physical therapy assistants is promising, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting a 30% increase in demand for PTAs over the next decade. This growth is due to the aging baby boomer population, which will require more medical care, including physical therapy services.

Interviewing Physical Therapist Assistants

To get an inside look at what it’s really like working as a physical therapist assistant, we talked to several professionals working in different healthcare settings. We learned that while the specifics of the job vary depending on the setting, the core of the job is the same: helping people recover and regain their physical function.

Nicole, a physical therapist assistant at a nursing home, enjoys the daily challenges of working with older patients who are experiencing cognitive decline. She says it’s rewarding to see a patient who was struggling with their balance and mobility progress to a place where they can return home and live independently.

Anne, another physical therapist assistant, works at an outpatient rehabilitation clinic, where she sees many athletes recovering from injuries. She enjoys working with athletes because they are often highly motivated to get back to their sport, which drives them to work hard in therapy.

Describing the Job Entails

As a physical therapist assistant working in different healthcare settings, you will perform a variety of tasks. These could include taking vital signs such as blood pressure and heart rate, preparing patients for treatment, educating patients on the correct form for exercise, and assisting in the performance of therapeutic exercises. PTAs also commonly use modalities such as electrotherapy, therapeutic ultrasound, and heat or cold therapy to supplement exercises and reduce pain.

Working alongside a licensed physical therapist, you will create and implement individualized care plans to help patients recover from a range of injuries. These include sports injuries, back pain, arthritis, neurological conditions, orthopedic injuries, and those related to surgical procedures.

Highlighting the Salary and Job Outlook for Physical Therapist Assistants

The average annual salary for physical therapist assistants is $48,990, according to the BLS. However, this can vary depending on the industry and geographic location. For instance, physical therapist assistants working in nursing homes or home healthcare may earn less than those working in outpatient clinics or hospitals.

As previously mentioned, the job outlook for physical therapist assistants is extremely positive. This is due to the continued growth of the population of aging adults and the increased demand for physical therapy services across the healthcare industry.

Educational Requirements for Physical Therapist Assistants

To enroll in a PTA program, students must first complete prerequisite classes such as anatomy, physiology, and biology. These classes enable the student to understand the complexities of the human body and prepare them for the rigorous coursework they will face in a physical therapist assistant program.

Physical therapist assistant programs usually take two years to complete and include lab work, clinical experiences, and academic coursework. After completion, students must take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) before they can apply for state licensure and certification in their respective states.

Tips and Advice on How to Succeed as a Physical Therapist Assistant

If you’re interested in becoming a physical therapist assistant, there are several things you can do to ensure success in this challenging and rewarding career path. In addition to completing your education requirements, it’s important to network with other professionals in the field, develop excellent communication skills, and seek out mentorship from experienced physical therapists.

Other tips include staying up-to-date with industry advancements, practicing self-care, and demonstrating empathy towards your patients. Your success as a PTA will depend on a combination of education, hard work, and dedication.


Becoming a physical therapist assistant can be an exciting and rewarding career choice. With the ever-growing demand for physical therapy services, job security and growth are extremely promising. To become a licensed PTA, you must complete an associate’s degree program, pass your state licensure exam and secure certification from the NPTE. Additionally, gaining hands-on clinical experience and networking with other professionals in the field can be a tremendous asset. By following these tips and advice, you can become a successful physical therapist assistant and make a meaningful impact on the lives of others.

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