Tips for Surviving PTA School: Expectations, Requirements, and Challenges
Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) are directly involved in patient care. They are members of a team dedicated to helping patients recover their strength and mobility to perform daily activities. Some of the treatments that PTAs offer include functional training, exercise, and manual therapy. They are also responsible for obtaining and recording data regarding the patient’s treatments and progress.
To become a Physical Therapist Assistant, you’ll need to obtain an associate’s degree from an accredited program. PTA school can be a challenging experience for many students. To help you get a head start, we developed this comprehensive guide to provide tips, tricks, and resources you will need to enter PTA school confidently.
Why Become a Physical Therapist Assistant?
Now is a fantastic time to become a Physical Therapist Assistant! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of PTAs is expected to grow 24 percent by 2031.
As chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity become more prevalent, more PTAs will be needed to manage the effects of these conditions and provide patient mobility interventions. Plus, Physical Therapist Assistants earn an average salary of $60,740.
Their salary* can vary depending on the employer. For example, Physical Therapist Assistants who work in home healthcare services make an average salary* of $75,130, while those who work in nursing care facilities make an average salary* of $69,890.
Physical Therapist Assistant Salaries
Top Paying Industries for Physical Assistant Salaries
Salaries for Physical Therapist Assistants can vary based on the industry. According to the BLS, here are the top-paying industries for Physical Therapist Assistants.
|Industry||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|Home health care services||$36.12||$75,130|
|Nursing care facilities||$33.60||$69,890|
|Assisted living facilities||$33.43||$69,530|
|Management of Companies||$31.99||$66,540|
|Outpatient care centers||$31.63||$65,790|
Highest Paying States for Physical Assistants
Physical Therapist Assistant salaries vary based on location. For example, here are some of the top-paying states for Physical Therapist Assistants:
|State||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
Top Paying Cities for Physical Therapist Assistants
Here are some of the cities where Physical Therapist Assistants can earn the most:
|City||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|San Jose, CA||$41.33||$85,960|
|San Francisco, CA||$37.86||$78,740|
|Santa Maria, CA||$36.73||$76,390|
|Los Angeles, CA||$36.12||$75,120|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$35.92||$74,720|
Find the Right PTA Program for You
Once you have decided to pursue a career as a PTA, the next step is to find the best Physical Therapist Assistant program for you. There are various questions to consider, such as the length of the program, its location, and the curriculum.
Choose a program accredited by CAPTE to ensure the quality of your Physical Therapist Assistant education. Below are two important factors you should consider when searching for PTA programs:
- Cost and financial aid opportunities. Most students need loans to graduate, so be sure you are both financially aware and prepared. Each program has a different cost and student experience.
- Demographics and location. You will invest a lot into your future career through a PTA education. Pick a program where you feel at home.
In some cases, you might be able to talk with current students or recent graduates of a program. You could also try to speak with employers who hired graduates from those programs. With each party, inquire about the program’s strengths and weaknesses.
How to Get into Physical Therapist Assistant School
Each Physical Therapist Assistant program will have specific requirements. Check the school’s website or speak with an admissions representative.
Most PTA programs typically take about two years (or five semesters) to complete. Most programs will start with general-education courses, physical therapy courses, and clinical education. Some subjects that are often covered include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, and pathology. Depending on the program, the curriculum may be 75% classroom-based and 25% dedicated to clinical rotations.
Many programs offer night classes, online classes, or a hybrid-online format if you cannot enroll in full-time courses. Start by contacting the school’s admissions team and ask your questions about their enrollment process.
What are the PTA School Prerequisites?
Pick the program that is right for you and that suits your situation. To give you a better idea, here are some general PTA program requirements:
- Career planning session and admissions interview
- Proof of high school education or equivalent
- Entrance assessment test
- Admissions application
- Enrollment agreement
- Financing arrangements
Although there are no standard admission requirements for a Physical Therapist Assistant education, many require a good grade point average, observations in a physical therapy clinic, and a letter of reference from a Physical Therapist.
Finally, some PTA programs may ask you to disclose any previous felony or misdemeanor convictions. A criminal record won’t necessarily prevent you from enrolling in a PTA program, but failure to disclose any past or pending charges could be grounds for dismissal. It is best to understand your state’s PTA licensing requirements.
At most schools, the clinical and immunization requirements for their healthcare programs lower risk and ensure everyone’s safety. More specifically, students will rotate at a clinical site requiring certain immunizations.
For example, below are some of the required vaccinations for Provo College’s PTA program:
- TdaP within the past ten years.
- MMR (two vaccines at least one month apart) or titers showing immunity
- Twinrix or Hepatitis B completed series or titer within the last ten years. Documentation that the Hepatitis B series has been completed must be provided within eight months following the first injection.
- Negative Two Step TB (PPD)within the last year. If you previously tested positive, provide a negative chest x-ray within the past two years or QuntiFERONGold Test. TB test, chest x-rays, and QuantiFERON tests must be renewed annually.
- Varicella Titer showing immunity or vaccination (two doses if given after age 13).
- COVID-19 vaccination
- Flu vaccination
Is PTA School Hard?
You may wonder: How hard is Physical Therapist Assistant school compared to other degree programs? First, consider your natural gifts, personality, interests, and motivations. If you have a strong desire to serve individuals in your community, have an aptitude for science, and enjoy working with your hands, you will likely thrive in PTA school and healthcare.
Like most medical programs, PTA courses require intense study. Because individual skills vary so greatly, a class that one student finds relatively easy may be challenging for another student. However, some courses are well known for their difficulty. They typically include the following subjects:
- Anatomy and Physiology
So, how difficult is PTA school? It depends on who you ask. Some find it difficult, while others find it very manageable. All PTA students face challenges in their programs, but those who don’t give up succeed.
Of course, some tips and tricks help, too!
Physical Therapist Assistant School Tips
When it comes to surviving PTA school, try to remember that thousands of students complete their training every year. We do not doubt that you can be one of them, too! Although there’s a lot of information to process, there are also many PTA school study tips at your disposal.
Here are just a few of them:
- Develop a schedule. Time management is key to success. Create a schedule that works for you and ensures you can complete your coursework. This can be critical for students who find some program elements more challenging than others. A personalized schedule will keep you from falling behind. If you’re receiving financial aid, you may need to enroll in a minimum number of classes or risk losing your assistance. Again, an organized schedule spells success.
- Communicate with your instructors. Maintaining the lines of communication with your instructor is vital to any effective study plan. While some students may be nervous, seek help before you fall seriously behind on your work. Remember that the faculty wants to see you succeed and may be willing to help.
- Work with other students. Some schools provide their students with voluntary study group programs. If your learning style is compatible with other students, studying with them could be incredibly helpful. Plus, if you miss a class, your study group can give you notes and help you catch up. Even if you are part of an online program, you can still participate in these groups via email or virtual chatrooms.
- Take advantage of internships. Many schools provide their PTA students with internship programs, supervised externships, clinical rotations, or something along those lines. These real-world scenarios will allow you to gain experience and work alongside licensed medical professionals. Make sure you maintain your grades and meet the requirements to participate in a rotation.
An internship can significantly improve your professional prospects after you have graduated and obtained a PTA license. A well-liked intern may be hired immediately after graduation.
How to Pass the PTA Licensing Exam
What is the PTA Exam?
Unless you live in Colorado or Hawaii, you’ll need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) before looking for a job. Once you’ve graduated from a PTA program, you will be eligible to apply for the exam.
(Click here to learn how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant)
Applicants must be adequately prepared for the exam. This is because retakes are only allowed three times yearly (or six times total). The minimum passing score for the PTA exam is 600, with scores ranging from 200–800.
Requirements for licensure often vary by location, so it’s important to know your state’s process. Look for more information from The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
Tips for Passing the PTA Exam
Here are a few helpful study tips for passing the Physical Therapist Assistant exam:
- Create a study schedule. We’ve already covered this one, but it’s critical to develop the proper schedule for you and stick to it!
- Focus on the important stuff. While studying, remember to focus on the NPTE’s three big topics: Musculoskeletal, Neuromuscular / Nervous System, Cardiopulmonary & Lymphatics.
- Use good study habits. Find a distraction-free environment, and remember to move and stretch every hour. You can also use the PQ4R method of study: Preview, Query, Read, Reflect, Recite, and Review.
- Complete practice tests. Many students take several practice tests. It’s also vital that you review the results and see where you need to improve. Note: Practice tests aren’t usually free and may cost around $100. Your PTA Program may provide practice tests.
- Take an online prep course. If you’d like extra accountability—and want to take the practice tests a little further—then an online prep course might be for you.
- Ask your classmates to quiz you. It can be beneficial to perform exercises like this with a classmate. You can also ask for their take on the material. This may inspire more critical thinking and comprehension of the material, not just memorization.
- Breathe. And get a good night’s sleep! Seriously: Don’t underestimate the power of deep breaths and sleep. They can do more for you than a cram session or looking at books for hours on end.
Your New Career Starts Today
Several great PTA schools offer high-quality programs. These vocational PTA schools provide students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in their future professions.
Once you enroll in a PTA program, you will be close to earning your license and building a satisfying career in the healthcare field.
Now that you know how to prepare for PTA school, you may be interested in applying for one. If so, click here to learn more about the PTA program at Provo College. We are committed to helping you succeed as a Physical Therapist Assistant!