Doctors, nurses, and lawyers all operate at the forefront of accident cases, but only a very small group of individuals are responsible for a victim’s ongoing care and recovery after the fact. Physical therapists and their assistants help patients overcome limitations caused organically or by accidents. They also help those patients improve their strength, adapt to a better lifestyle, and reduce the pain of physical disabilities caused by back injuries, head traumas, arthritis, and cerebral palsy. In particular, physical therapy assistants teach and facilitate exercises with patients, provide therapeutic massage and music stimulation, help to maintain office operations, and document the ongoing progress of each patient.
The Hidden Life of Physical Therapy Assistants
Do you know that nearly one out of every five U.S. military discharges is due to lower back pain? Are you intrigued that evidence of arthritis shows in people living over half a million years ago? Is your favorite history lesson learning that the adjustable length crutch was not patented until 1945?
If you’re interested in learning about physical disabilities, and if you want to assist children and adults with overcoming the obstacles caused by such disabilities, then physical therapy assisting may be an ideal career path. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs are growing faster than average in this sector, especially in areas focused on treating the elderly. Physical therapy assistants can work full-time or part-time, with on-the-job training being the perfect pathway to higher levels of education. Physical therapy assistant programs will typically prepare a student for larger positions in the medical community, should that be a goal.
Individuals interested in this type of career should be aware that a physical therapy aide is not the same as a physical therapy assistant. Aides help with patient transportation and with the general cleanliness and organization of the physical therapy office. Assistants, on the other hand, have the education and credentials necessary to perform clinical duties under the supervision of a physical therapist. Some physical therapy assistants even manage the aides working on a team.
Accredited Physical Therapy Assistant Programs
The first step to becoming a physical therapy assistant (PTA) is applying to an accredited degree program. These associate’s degrees teach the basics of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, orthopedics, and rehabilitation techniques. Instructors have experience in the field, which means that students can learn from real-world examples and case studies. Many programs, such as the two featured below, help students locate externship facilities and employment opportunities.
Online PTA Program at San Juan College
New Mexico’s San Juan College offers an Associate of Applied Science degree specializing in physical therapy assisting. The majority of courses can be completed online, but students must visit the college for about one week each semester to finish labs. The PTA laboratory features advanced machinery and equipment including tilt tables, electrotherapy machines, paraffin baths, ultrasound technology, traction tables, and massage tables. The American Physical Therapy Association’s Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredits this program. The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools also accredits San Juan College.
Whatcom Community College’s Hybrid PTA Degree
Whatcom Community College in Washington State offers an associate’s degree dedicated to physical therapist assistants. This program is also accredited by the CAPTE, which means that graduates are eligible to take the national licensing examination. The majority of the physical therapy assistant degree can be completed online, but students are required to attend weekend labs on campus about once per month. Students receive the training necessary to work in hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes, retirement communities, and health clubs. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities accredits Whatcom Community College. The school boasts a high pass rate on the national exam for physical therapy assisting and a high employment rate for graduates.
The Importance of Accreditation
Finding an accredited physical therapist assistant program is critical. Having a CAPTE approval means that a program fulfills the fundamental training objectives for the profession and provides qualified faculty and resources for an excellent educational experience. More importantly, students must graduate from a CAPTE-accredited program in order to take the licensing examination and begin practice. In addition, only physical therapy assistants with a CAPTE background can provide services to Medicare patients.
Overall, accredited online physical therapy assistant programs combine the convenience of distance education with the rigorous standards of a nationally recognized organization. Students can organize their classes around their families and social obligations without needing to travel to a campus every week. Busy parents and professionals can complete their coursework on their own schedules and take control of their futures at their own pace. Most importantly, online students make lifelong connections and still obtain the hands-on experience necessary to be successful in the field.