Most states require physical therapist assistants to have an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapist program. Physical therapist aides usually have a high school diploma and get on-the-job training.
Most states require physical therapist assistants to have an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapist program. In 2011, there were 280 associate's degree programs for physical therapist assistants accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
Programs are divided into academic coursework and clinical experience. Academic courses include algebra, English, anatomy and physiology, and psychology. Clinical work includes certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other first aid and hands-on experience in treatment centers. Many physical therapist assistants and aides continue their formal education to qualify for jobs in administration, management, and education.
Physical therapist aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent. They commonly get clinical experience through on-the-job training. This training can last from a few weeks to several months.
Compassion. Physical therapy is an important part of the recovery process for people who have been through surgeries, illnesses, and injuries. Physical therapist assistants and aides should enjoy helping people.
Detail oriented. Like other healthcare professionals, physical therapist assistants and aides should be organized and have a keen eye for detail. They must keep accurate records and follow written instructions carefully to ensure quality care.
Dexterity. Physical therapist assistants should be comfortable using their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. Aides should also be comfortable working with their hands to set up equipment and prepare treatment areas.
Interpersonal skills. Both physical therapist assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with clients. They should be courteous and friendly.
Physical stamina. Physical therapist assistants and aides are frequently on their feet and moving as they work with their patients. They must often kneel, stoop, bend, and stand for long periods. They should enjoy physical activity.
Most states require physical therapist assistants to be licensed. Licensure typically requires graduation from an accredited physical therapist assistant program and passing the Physical National Physical Therapy Exam. Some states require additional state-administered exams. In some states, physical therapist assistants also need to take continuing education courses. Check with your state licensing board.
Physical therapist aides are not required to be licensed.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition