Most people know that physical therapists are medical professionals who assist people with various physical ailments. However, fewer people know that you can get a career as a physical therapy assistant, which means you will work in helping a medical physical therapist with his or her work. So while the work is similar, a physical therapy assistance major requires far fewer years in school than physical therapy (which requires a graduate degree), so it’s an ideal career for students who are interested in physical therapy but are unsure if spending a long time in school is right for them.
According to the College Board, this major is typically earned at the associate’s degree level. AP Chemistry and Biology are helpful high school courses to take before declaring this major, although they are not required. Some courses that students in this major will take at the college level include intro to physical therapy, therapeutic exercise, rehabilitation procedures, motor development and clinical practicum. Since you are learning how to aid a physical therapist, you will learn basics on how to diagnose and treat conditions but most of your work will come from learning about medical practices and current laws, issues and regulations in the medical field.
What to know before you apply
Students in this major should be in good physical shape in order to lift and move patients. Good communication skills are also essential in order to talk to the patient as well as their family and the physical therapist that you are assisting. Students should also be prepared to spend much of their time doing hands-on training in addition to their academics so good time management is necessary. When looking into different schools, students should look into whether or not the school is APTA certified (American Physical Therapy Association), how it will help them prepare for the state licensing exam, how up-to-date their technology is and if there is a job-placement center on campus.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly salary for physical therapy assistants was $48,590 as of 2009. If you do choose to further your education and get a graduate degree in physical therapy, you can expect to earn an average yearly salary of $76,220 as estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009.