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Best Online Associate in Physical Therapy Assistant Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What is an Online Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Degree?

To understand what an online physical therapy assistant associate degree is, one must first understand what physical therapy is. Physical therapy is a branch of health care that involves a variety of techniques designed to heal and strengthen the different parts of the body. Some examples of these therapies include the application of heat or cold, massage therapy, and targeted exercise routines.

A physical therapy assistant works with a patient to apply these techniques. An online associate degree is designed to equip its graduates with the knowledge and skillset needed to serve clients as a physical therapy assistant. Their curriculum will cover the workings of the human body and the procedures that a physical therapy assistant utilizes in the course of their job. Usually offered as an Associate in Applied Science in Physical Therapy Assistant, these programs can be completed online.

Who Should Pursue a Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Degree?

If you enjoy working closely with others in a setting that's dedicated to the pursuit of health and wellness, a position as a physical therapy assistant could be right for you. Physical therapy assistants work directly with their patients and their peers on a regular basis. You can work at a location that sees a diverse range of clients or work at a facility with a specialized population like children or the elderly. Physical therapy has a direct impact on the quality of life for the patients involved, so it's a rewarding field.

Entry-level physical therapy assistant positions are typically open to candidates who have completed their associate degree, which means that, in about two years, you can become a physical therapy assistant and grow in a relatively accessible and stable career path.

Online degree programs usually offer greater flexibility than traditional classes offered on campus. An adaptable schedule means that you may be able to do other activities, such as work as a physical therapy aide, while enrolled in courses.

Application, Admissions, and Enrollment for Online Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Degree Programs

To be accepted into an online physical therapy assistant associate degree program, you must meet the requirements of both the school and the program. Every school sets its own standards, and individual programs may set additional requirements. While it's important to research the specific criteria of your chosen program, there are some general requirements that you can expect.

Many physical therapy assistant programs require the recent completion of certain science courses, such as anatomy and physiology, biology, and chemistry. They also look for English composition credits or test scores to highlight reading comprehension and communication skills.

During the admission process, you'll gather and submit all of the required materials. One common example is a transcript of all previous courses. This includes high school classes as well as any Advanced Placement, dual enrollment, or college credit courses that you have successfully completed or are currently enrolled in. Another common submission is standardized test scores, such as the results of the SAT or ACT. Application materials are usually submitted during the prior school year, often during the winter, so that decisions can be released in the spring. Each institution follows its own timeline, so confirm the deadlines with the school to ensure you avoid being late.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of an Online Physical Therapy Assistant Degree Program?

Both in-person and online physical therapy assistant degree programs can offer quality education that prepares students for a career in their chosen field. An online structure has some unique advantages over an in-person structure, but it also has some disadvantages.

One of the clearest advantages is flexibility. Online classes are commonly offered asynchronously, which means that each student can log on whenever it's convenient for them and complete the coursework at their own pace. This can be especially beneficial in complex and difficult courses because it allows you to spend extra time understanding a topic that you may find difficult at first.

One disadvantage to an online physical therapy program, however, is that clinical experiences can never be fully replicated in an online setting. Physical therapy is hands-on, and it can require great precision. Some of the skills required to become a successful physical therapy assistant must be learned in an in-person setting with proper observation and guidance.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Degree?

Generally speaking, it takes about two years to complete a physical therapy assistant associate degree. That timeline can be shortened if you transfer credits; the guidelines for that process vary by institution. Some programs can be completed in as few as eighteen months.

Due to the hands-on nature of physical therapy, most online PTA programs are hybrid programs. This means that they offer a blend of virtual learning through online lectures and in-person instruction that covers the technical aspects of the work. As much as half of the education requirements may be in-person clinical content. In many cases, the lecture content is offered asynchronously, while the clinical components are scheduled synchronously.

How Much Does an Online Associate Degree in Physical Therapy Assistant Cost?

There are many factors that affect the cost of a degree. Many online associate degrees for PTAs will charge a dollar amount per academic credit. This rate will most likely be different for an in-state student than an out-of-state student. Such rates can be anywhere from $50 to $150 per credit hour for an in-state student, and from $160 to $270 per credit hour for an out-of-state student. There will most likely be additional fees set by the college or university, and some out-of-pocket costs, such as for purchasing books, are to be expected.

Online Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Degree Coursework

A physical therapy assistant needs a thorough understanding of the human body and its function to succeed at their job, so it's no surprise that the curriculum of a PTA program includes lots of body-focused classes. Some examples include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Physical therapy assistant procedures

Many classes will be complemented with lab components, so the theories learned in the classroom can be applied in clinical settings. There are also some common general education requirements, such as English composition and math.

What Can I Do With an Online Associate Degree in Physical Therapy Assistant

As the name suggests, an online associate degree in physical therapy assistant prepares you for a career as a physical therapy assistant. A physical therapy assistant works with a patient to follow the plan of care that has been drawn up by a physical therapist. While the majority of PTAs work in a hospital or privately-owned physical therapy practices, some work in rehabilitation centers, schools, or home health care.

To start a career as a PTA, you must complete an accredited education program and pass a national exam that's administered on the state level to obtain the necessary licensure or certification. Each state has different requirements regarding such licensure.

Begin a Career as a Physical Therapy Assistant

The first step to becoming a physical therapy assistant is to earn an associate degree from an accredited program. The curriculum of such a program, in tandem with the practical elements, will provide a strong foundation for the next step, which is examination. In every state except Hawaii and Colorado, PTAs are required to obtain a license to supplement their associate degree. Upon passing the National Physical Therapy Exam, you'll get your PTA license. This makes you eligible to apply for physical therapy assistant positions.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a PTA is $49,970 per year, or around $24 per hour. The states with the highest salaries for physical therapy assistants are California, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Across the board, jobs for physical therapy assistants are expected to increase by 29% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations (4%).

Begin a Career as a Physical Therapist

An associate degree as a PTA can be a stepping stone toward a career as a licensed physical therapist. A physical therapist meets with clients, evaluates their needs, and designs a treatment plan for their specific needs. This can work toward goals such as increased mobility, pain reduction, or similar. To become a physical therapist, one must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited program and pass the state exam to obtain a license. Some programs will accept the credits earned in a PTA associate's degree.

Data gathered by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the median salary of a physical therapist is $91,010 per year, or around $44 per hour. The field of physical therapy is expected to grow dramatically in the coming years to keep up with increasing demands and greater awareness of the benefits of physical therapy in a wide variety of situations. The states with the highest salaries for physical therapists are Nevada, California, Alaska, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

What Is the Difference Between a Physical Therapy Assistant and a Physical Therapist

Both a physical therapy assistant and a physical therapist work closely with clients to help them achieve wellness goals. These clients may be recovering from a surgery or an injury, or perhaps managing a long-term condition such as chronic pain and/or a disability. Both physical therapists and physical therapy assistants work in the same types of locations and environments and are part of the same team.

The main differences in these positions lie in the qualifying education level and job focus. A physical therapy assistant needs an associate degree to be eligible for licensure, while a physical therapist needs a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. A physical therapist meets with the client to identify their needs and draw up a treatment plan that addresses those needs. A physical therapy assistant then works with the client during their visits to carry out that treatment plan. While both roles are focused on caring for a client, they do so in different ways.

Accreditation for Online Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Degree Programs

Accreditation refers to the process of an independent body evaluating a program or school and determining if it meets its standards of accreditation. The benefit of attending schools that have completed this process is that it ensures the quality of education offered by that school or program has been verified by an independent organization.

When it comes to online associate degree programs for physical therapy assistants, the primary accrediting body is the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, or CAPTE. It is recognized by both the United States Department of Education and by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Transfer Options After Completing an Online Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Degree

While an associate degree is sufficient to start a career as a physical therapy assistant, some students elect to continue their physical therapy education. One way to do this is through a completion degree. Completion degree programs are bachelor's degrees specifically designed to build on an associate degree in the same field. There are several of these types of programs for physical therapy assistants.

It is worth noting that several schools place an expiration date on transferable classes. For example, to be accepted for transfer, science classes must have been taken within a certain timeframe (such as in the past five, seven, or ten years). The medical field, and all areas of science, are constantly evolving as new research is completed and new information comes to light. These policies about transfer deadlines are designed to ensure that students are working with up-to-date and accurate information.

What Are Other Physical Therapy Assistant Degree Paths/Options?

There are educational opportunities for physical therapy assistants who want to continue their education and develop themselves professionally. Another option is to transition from being a physical therapy assistant to becoming a licensed physical therapist. Despite being different roles, both of these positions draw on very similar skills. Many PTAs choose to stick with their position as an assistant throughout their career. But for those who want to pursue the highest levels of education, such programs are only offered to physical therapists.

Online Bachelor's Programs in Physical Therapy Assistant

Usually requiring 120 credits, degrees for PTAs are available at the bachelor's level. These programs culminate in a Bachelor's of Science, and while Physical Therapy Assistant is the most common program title, there may be other variations. One example is a Bachelor of Science in Health Science (Post PTA). Generally speaking, these programs will be a hybrid of online learning and in-person, clinical practice.

These programs aim to build on the knowledge base earned in an associate degree program, and provide more specialized education in the tertiary aspects of physical therapy assistance. Degree holders are typically equipped to pursue leadership roles and higher education.

Online Master's Programs in Physical Therapy Assistant

While there are master's degree programs for similar fields in the realm of physiotherapy, such as occupational therapy, there are no master's programs for physical therapy assistants. Graduates of a bachelor's degree program who wish to pursue further study in the field of physical therapy typically enroll directly in a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, which is described below.

Online Doctoral Programs in Physical Therapy Assistant

Studies in physical therapy at the doctoral level work toward a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Earning this degree gives the student the ability to sit for state examinations to become a licensed physical therapist. Online doctoral programs offer the benefit of flexibility; many students continue working while earning their degrees. Some programs may have in-person clinical requirements, the schedule for which should be kept in mind when selecting a school. The coursework in these programs includes advanced practices and may offer opportunities for specialization.

Online Certificate Programs in Physical Therapy Assistant

There aren't any certificate programs specifically in physical therapy assisting (because the field requires an associate degree). One option for professional development for physical therapy assistants is to complete an Advanced Proficiency Pathway from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). The Advanced Proficiency Pathways focus on a particular need or skill set so that you can obtain specialized knowledge in that particular sector. Some examples include:

  • Geriatrics (working with the elderly)
  • Pediatrics (working with children)
  • Acute care
  • Wound management
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary
  • Oncology (working with cancer patients)
  • Orthopedics

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Physical Therapy Assistant Online Associate Degrees

Paying for a degree can be daunting, but there are lots of financial aid opportunities available. The first step to accessing these opportunities is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will determine if you qualify for any federal grants, loans, or other financial aid offerings. It will also allow your school to connect you with any scholarships or grants they provide that you may qualify for.

You may also be able to find scholarships from other organizations for which you can apply. Many scholarships and grants have certain criteria that must be met in order to apply for them. These criteria may be things like identity and demographic, or the field of study. For example, the BrightLife Direct scholarship is a $1,000 scholarship offered to a student in occupational therapy, physical therapy, or physical therapy assistant program. An annual award, this scholarship requires a short essay, a letter of recommendation, and a transcript from an accredited program.

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