Woman with orthopedic problem exercising with ball while physiotherapist supporting her

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)

What You Need to Know About the Qualifications, Requirements, and Responsibilities of Physical Therapist Assistants

Therapist treating injured knee of athlete male patient

Finding a job that not only pays the bills but also satisfies your personal ambitions can be difficult. It’s important that you love what you do, so that someday your job doesn’t feel much like a “job” at all. The healthcare industry provides millions of people with redeeming careers that range in salary*, schedule, and work setting.

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are one of the most in-demand positions in the healthcare industry. If you’re in search of a rewarding profession in which you can help others while staying active, you should consider a career as a physical therapist assistant.

If you’re interested to learn about this rapidly growing occupation, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to become a PTA. Continue reading to find out what you need to do in order to become a PTA, as well as what makes this career so rewarding.

What Is a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)?

Physical therapist assistants, or PTAs, help patients recover from injury or disability. A PTA works directly under the supervision of a physical therapist; however they’re still involved with the patients directly.

In fact, this is one of the main differentiators between a “physical therapist assistant” and a “physical therapist aid.” A physical therapist aid is only given responsibilities indirectly related to the patient, such as cleaning, transporting patients, and clerical duties.

What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Do?

Physical therapist assistants have varying duties when it comes to patient care. They are members of a team dedicated to helping patients recover their strength and mobility to perform daily tasks and activities.

PTA’s assist in the treatment of patients of all ages who have medical conditions that limit their ability to move and perform daily activities. There are number of different conditions that are treated with physical therapy. Some of the most common conditions include sports-related injuries such as concussion and tennis elbow, as well as neurological conditions such as stroke or spinal cord injuries.

Some of the treatments that physical therapist assistants are authorized to conduct include massage, exercise, and electrical stimulation.

PTA’s are also responsible for obtaining and recording data regarding the patient’s treatments, and implementing changes based on that data in order to improve their journey to recovery.

How Much Do Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

One of the most promising aspects of becoming a PTA is the significant salary* you can receive as soon as you land a job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the reported median salary* for all physical therapist assistants was $58,040. The salary* of a PTA can vary, however, depending on where they are employed. For example, the BLS reports that PTA’s working in nursing care facilities make an average salary* of $66,440.  PTA’s working in home healthcare services make an average salary* of $62,340, while PTA’s working in offices of physicians make an average salary* of $54,360.

It’s evident that the career outlook for a PTA is bright, but what does it take to become one?

What Is the Job Outlook for a PTA?

Woman with orthopedic problem exercising with ball while physiotherapist supporting her

Now is the perfect time to become a physical therapist assistant since career opportunities for PTA’s are growing rapidly.

According to the BLS, employment of physical therapist assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. As chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity have become more prevalent in recent years, more physical therapist assistants will be needed to manage the effects of these conditions and support patients in maintaining mobility. The BLS also reports that job prospects will be particularly prevalent where the elderly are most often treated, such as nursing homes and home health.

How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)?

Multinational interns and professor having discussion

Now that you know what a PTA does, and how much they make, here’s a step-by-step guide on what you need to do to become one:

Step 1: Find an Accredited Physical Therapist Assistant Program

In order to become a PTA, you’ll need to earn an Associate’s degree from an accredited PTA program. When choosing a school to attend, it’s important to know the duration of the program, the credibility of the school, and the cost of the program.

The average length of a PTA program is typically 2 years (5 semesters). The program begins with general education courses and progresses into PT courses and clinical education. Some of the subjects that are covered throughout the curriculum include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, and biomechanics. The curriculum is about 75% classroom orientated, with the remaining 25% dedicated to clinicals.

Accreditation, length, and affordability should all play a role in finding the right program for you. The only recognized accreditation for PTA programs is CAPTE, and you’ll only be able to take the licensure exam if your program is CAPTE accredited. If you lead a busy life and can’t be in class full time, many programs offer a significant portion of their curriculum online. Some other factors you should consider when researching PTA programs include campus setting, licensure pass rates, and size of college.

For those looking for in-depth data about CAPTE accredited PTA programs, they do provide some expansive information available here.

Step 2: Pass the PTA Licensing Exam

Unless you’re living in Colorado or Hawaii, you’ll need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) before you can begin looking for a job. Once you’ve graduated from a PTA program, you’re eligible to apply for the exam.

It’s imperative that applicants are adequately prepared for the exam, as retakes are only allowed three times per year, and six times total. The minimum passing score for the PTA exam is a 600, with scoring ranging from 200-800. Official practice exams are available through the Practice Exam & Assessment Tool (PEAT) website. There’s also access to some sample questions on the FSBPT website available for free here.

Requirements for licensure do vary by state, so it’s important to know your states individual process. More information can be found at The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website.

Step 3: Prepare Yourself for Interviewing and Begin Applying

If you’ve earned your degree, and have successfully passed your state’s licensure exam, you’re almost ready to begin your career as a PTA. However, just like any career, it’s important to polish up your skills and prepare yourself for the interviewing process. Look back at your education and work experience. If necessary, begin cultivating or enhancing the necessary skillsets that healthcare employers are seeking.

As a PTA, your communication skills should also be on full display when interviewing, as employers are looking for applicants that will be able to effectively instruct and motivate their patients. Employers are also looking for applicants that are detail oriented and possess a strong ability to multitask. You must be prepared to carefully track patient progress while simultaneously assisting many patients at one time.

Before you begin applying, you’ll also want to determine your preferred practice areas. PTA’s work in a variety of environments including hospitals, offices, nursing care facilities, in-home healthcare, and athletic organizations. While the work environment may depend on your location, it’s always helpful to narrow your search and tailor your resume to what you enjoy most.

Are You Ready to Start Your Career as a Physical Therapist Assistant?

Now that you know everything there is to know when it comes to becoming a PTA, do you feel ready to jump in? If so, you can find out more about Provo College’s PTA here. We’re ready to help you find success as a physical therapist assistant.