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Why a PTA?

Three of the reasons are salary, employment, and education.

Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median wage for a PTA is $57,430 as of May 2017. For comparison, a physical therapist aide earns $25,730. The aide generally trains on-the-job.

The states with the highest income for PTAs are Texas ($70,450), New Jersey ($67,990), and Nevada ($63,230). Florida and Massachusetts follow with salaries exceeding $60k.

Many of the highest paying cities are in Texas. Tyler tops the list, per the BLS, with an average salary of $83,470, followed by Killeen-Temple ($79,550), Victoria ($76,720), and Texarkana ($75,960). Other Texas cities exceeding $75k per year are San Antonio, Brownsville, and Dallas-Plano.

PTA state workers

Employment

According to the BLS, the occupation of PTA should increase by 30% over the ten years of 2016-2026. As of 2016, there were 140,300 employed with a projected job change of 42,700 over the same period.

The majority of PTAs work in facilities not related to hospitals. There were 41,780 working in offices of other health practitioners (BLS 2017), more than double employed in General Medical and Surgical Hospitals (17,200). However, the wages are highest for those PTAs in Home Health Care Services ($65,640). Nursing Care Facilities is a close second at $65,640.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has a median salary of $52,000 based on a 2016-17 survey. Several factors, including geographical location, experience, type of practice, and education, affect this number.

Education

The first point of emphasis under this heading is to select a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). The organization accredits schools offering PT and PTA degrees. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) provides a directory of PT and PTA programs within and outside the United States.

Your education begins with an Associate degree from over 300 institutions across the U.S. The programs are available at local community and technical colleges, junior colleges, and universities. There are online and campus programs, as well.

Your Associate degree typically takes two years or five semesters. You will likely have general education courses to start, followed by courses specific to this field. A vital part of any program is the clinical hours. The degree at this level is an Associate of Science or an Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapy Assistant.

The number of credit hours of General Education varies. One example is a community college that requires 31 credit hours of GE before students can progress to the PTA classes. In this example, there are courses in English Composition, Mathematics, Natural Science, Humanities, Behavioral Science, and Fine Arts.

Not all programs have GE integrated into the study plan. Trine University offers an Associate of Applied Science in PTA that consists of 75 credit hours over two years or five semesters. In the first semester, you take anatomy, research methods, and clinical practice. There are two GE-type courses in English Composition and College Algebra. In your second year, there are 15 hours devoted to Clinical Experience.

Some of the online programs require campus visits to complete laboratory obligations. Jefferson State Community College near Birmingham, Alabama, has a hybrid degree or Online Track Program. In addition to the lab classes, there are visits to instructional sites for lectures, exams, and clinics.

The curriculum in an associate’s degree, at most schools, does not entail chemistry and biology. The science is in medical terminology, physiology, pathophysiology, anatomy, and perhaps psychology. The study material in physiology, however, may cover the biological structure of cells and tissues. You should prepare for memorizing the musculoskeletal system of the human body.

You can complete some online programs in as few as 18 months. Rasmussen College is an example of a CAPTE accredited degree with campuses in six states. Their academic (didactic) portion involves live sessions, asynchronous discussions, exams, quizzes, and communication with faculty and peers. Due to the requisite lab classes and clinical practice, there are campus visits for most online programs. You may be able to perform the clinical experience at an approved facility near your residence.

Individuals considering a PTA degree must not underestimate the commitment for clinical hours. Rasmussen, for example, has two clinical sessions. The first one is 210 hours or 5.5 hours per week in a facility, such as a nursing home, inpatient clinic, home health, or rehabilitation setting. The second experience is ten weeks or 360 hours of practice.

An advantage of an Associate degree in PTA is the lower tuition, particularly at a community college. Some are as low as $113 per credit hour for in-state students. You may have additional fees for lab classes. Another example is the PTA degree at South Texas College, where in-district tuition is $70 per credit. Non-resident tuition is $200 per credit hour.

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