By completing an Associate of Science in Physical Therapy you may be qualified to begin a career as a physical therapy assistant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects for physical therapy assistants should grow rapidly in the coming years.*
Physical therapy assistants help licensed physical therapists provide... rehabilitative services to patients who have limited mobility, suffer from pain, or have physical disabilities. Tasks commonly assigned to physical therapy assistants include gathering patient information, recording treatment details and patient response, and preparing therapy equipment. Physical therapy assisting can be demanding work that requires some physical strength and an ability to interact with different types of people, but it is highly rewarding.
Depending on the state you live in, you'll need to earn licensure, certification, or registration to practice as a physical therapy assistant. Most states require physical therapy assistants to have a relevant associate degree, in addition to other requirements. Physical therapy assistants usually need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam in addition to any required state exams. In some states, you also need to fulfill regular continuing education credits to maintain your status. If you do not receive a physical therapy assistant license, you may still be able to work as a physical therapy aide — a position that usually encompasses clerical duties such as scheduling appointments and managing paperwork.
In a physical therapy assistant program, you're likely to learn about human anatomy and physiology. You may be exposed to procedures such as treating patients with heat or cold therapies, providing electric stimulation, performing ultrasound, and leading therapeutic exercises. You may also learn how to collaborate with a physical therapist, who will supervise you on the job. Associate of Science in Physical Therapy degrees often include coursework in liberal arts as well as specialized courses such as clinical education, therapeutic modalities, human kinesiology, therapeutic exercise, pathophysiological conditions, and applied neurology.
Outside the classroom, associate degree students may have opportunities to practice their knowledge in actual healthcare environments. Clinical training usually includes earning your certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and learning basic first aid. In addition, newly employed physical therapy assistants usually receive significant on-the-job training.
A career as a physical therapy assistant offers a fair amount of flexibility. Many physical therapy assistants work in private practice offices, hospitals, and rehabilitation centers. You might also find opportunities within sports organizations, at schools, or in senior citizen facilities. Depending on your employer, you may be able to work part-time or during nontraditional work hours (evenings and weekends) to accommodate patients' schedules.
For many physical therapy assistants, career training doesn't end with an associate degree. You may choose to continue your training toward an area of physical therapy assistant specialization. The American Physical Therapy Association recognizes specialists in areas like geriatric, pediatric, and cardiopulmonary physical therapy. If you plan to become a practicing physical therapist, you will need to continue your formal education and earn at least a master degree in the field.
* The preceding information was obtained from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) online resource, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition," available at: http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos167.htm
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