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 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 you with all the tips, tricks, and resources you will need to enter PTA school with confidence.
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 33 percent by 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
As chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity become more prevalent, greater numbers of 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 $59,440.
Their salary* can also vary depending on the employer. For example, Physical Therapist Assistants who work in home healthcare services make an average salary* of $66,860, while those who work in hospitals make an average salary* of $57,380.
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 that’s right for you. There are various questions to consider, such as the length of the program, its location, and the curriculum.
Programs should also be accredited by CAPTE, which can assure quality in 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 that you are both financially aware and prepared. Each program may offer a different cost and student experience.
- Demographics and location. This may sound obvious, but you will invest a lot into your future career through a PTA education. It’s important that you pick a program where you feel at home.
In some cases, you might be able to converse 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 their own requirements. Be sure to check the school’s website or speak with an admissions representative.
Most PTA program can typically be completed in about two years (or five semesters). Most programs will start with general-education courses, followed by physical therapy courses as well as clinical education. Some of the subjects that are often covered include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, and pathology. Depending on the program, the curriculum may be 75% classroom orientated, while the remaining 25% is dedicated to clinical rotations.
If you lead a busy life and cannot enroll in full-time classes, many programs offer night classes, online classes, or a hybrid-online format. Start by contacting the school’s admissions team and be sure to ask all your questions. Then, they will lead you through the enrollment process.
What are the PTA School Prerequisites?
While some places might have stricter PTA school requirements, there are also those that don’t; 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 that you may come across:
- Career planning session and admissions interview
- Submit proof of high school education or equivalent
- Entrance assessment test
- Admissions application
- Enrollment agreement
- Financing arrangements and, if applicable, all documents needed to obtain an official award letter for Federal Student Aid
Although there are no standard admission requirements for a Physical Therapist Assistant education, many do 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 choose 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 that requires documentation of certain immunizations.
For example, below are some of the required vaccinations for Provo College’s PTA program:
- TdaP within the past 10 years.
- MMR (two vaccines at least one month apart) or titers showing immunity;
- Twinrix or Hepatitis B completed series or titer within the last 10 years. Documentation that the Hepatitis B vaccinations series has been started must be provided before starting 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 previously tested positive, negative chest x-ray within past 2 years, or QuntiFERONGold Test. TB test, chest x-rays and QuantiFERON tests must be renewed annually.
- Varicella Titer showing immunity or vaccination (2 doses if given after age 13).
- COVID-19 vaccination.
- Typically the flu vaccination.
Is PTA School Hard?
You may be wondering: Just how hard is Physical Therapist Assistant school compared to other degrees? First, consider your natural gifts as well as your personality type, interests, and motivations. If you have a strong desire to serve individuals in your community, maintain a basic aptitude in the sciences, and enjoy working with your hands, you will likely thrive in PTA school and healthcare in general.
Like most medical programs, PTA courses often require intense study. Because individual skills vary so greatly, a class that one student finds quite easy may be a challenge 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 it’s the ones who don’t give up that 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 have no 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. This goes without saying, but time management is a key part of success. Create a schedule that works for you and ensures you can complete your coursework. This can be absolutely critical for students who find some elements of the program 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, it’s important to seek help before you fall seriously behind on your work. Try to remember that the faculty wants to see you succeed; in other words, they want to help you!
- Work with other students. Did you know that some schools provide their students with voluntary study group programs? If your learning style is compatible with other students, it could be incredibly helpful to study with them, ask questions, discuss topics at hand, etc. 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. In fact, a very 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 you start 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)
It’s crucial that applicants are adequately prepared for the exam. This is because retakes are only allowed three times per year (or six times total). The minimum passing score for the PTA exam is a 600, with scores ranging from 200-800.
Requirements for licensure often vary by location, so it’s important to know your state’s individual process. Look for more information with 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 so critical that it bears repeating; develop the right 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. Other areas are important, but probably not as important as these three areas.
- Use good study habits. This means you need to find a distraction-free environment and need to move every hour. You can also use the PQ4R method of study: Preview, Query, Read, Reflect, Recite, and Review.
- Complete practice tests. Many students take a number of 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. Practice tests may be provided by your PTA Program.
- Take an online prep course. If you’d like some extra accountability—and you want to take the practice tests a little further—then an online prep course might just be for you.
- Ask your classmates to quiz you. It can be very helpful 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
There are several great PTA schools that offer high-quality programs, so fulfilling your educational needs is very attainable. These vocational PTA schools are designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in their future profession.
Once you enroll in a PTA program, you will be one step away from earning your license and building a satisfying career in the healthcare field. With hard work, you can obtain your license and pursue your dream job.
Now that you know how to prepare for PTA school, you may be interested to apply for one. If so, click here learn more about the PTA program at Provo College. We are committed to helping you succeed as a Physical Therapist Assistant!