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What Is a PTA and How to Become One


What Is the Job of a PTA?

A PTA, or physical therapy assistant, works with patients receiving physical therapy due to injury, surgery, or a chronic condition. They provide care under the direction of a primary physical therapist. Patients are assigned a series of exercises and stretches, depending on what needs to be treated. As a PTA, you set up therapies, such as heat therapy, for the patients to enable them to relax their muscles and reduce pain. You then instruct the patients on how to perform the treatments prescribed by their doctor and the physical therapist. Some examples of exercises used during physical therapy include pedaling on a stationary bike, arm lifts on a weight machine, or forward lunges. You follow the patient from station to station, ensuring they have proper form, and document their progress.

Can a Medical Assistant Work as a PTA?

While medical assistants have been trained to work with medical professionals, they are not able to work as PTAs, or physical therapy assistants, without more training and certification. To become a PTA, complete an associate degree from a community college that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Most states require PTAs to become licensed. Once you have completed schooling, you need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy to earn your PTA license. Qualifications vary by state, so check the requirements where you live before applying for PTA positions.

What Are the Education Qualifications to Become a PTA?

To become a PTA or physical therapy assistant, you need an associate degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). These programs typically last about two years and teach you about different parts of the body and how they move. You also learn the proper way to instruct patients on treatments and to set up therapies, such as heat therapy. As part of your schooling, you spend a portion of your time doing clinical work where you train directly under a physical therapist or shadow a PTA at a healthcare facility. Most states also require PTAs to earn a license to practice after they complete their schooling. You can obtain a license by passing the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Qualifications vary by state, so check the requirements in your state before applying for PTA positions. You also have to take continuing education classes regularly to renew your license and keep your status current as a certified PTA.