Are you a physical therapist assistant (PTA) looking to further your education and career to become a physical therapist (PT)? If so, you’ve come to the right place! Below, we’ll provide some useful information to help you make the PTA to PT transition with confidence!
PTA to PT Transition
What’s the Difference?
Generally speaking, PTAs are support-level physical therapists and PTs are professional-level physical therapists. Both roles are important and necessary in the delivery of physical therapy. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) notes that, typically, a PTA will stick with that career choice. However, around 10 percent of PTAs go on to become physical therapists. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that PTA is not a “stepping stone” to becoming a physical therapist. The educational curriculum is actually quite different for the two occupations, causing the move from PTA to PT to be a bit tricky.
PTAs work directly with patients. The ability and desire to be compassionate is an essential skill of PTAs. They are kind of front-line in terms of dealing with patients hands-on. PTs typically spend less time actually interacting face-to-face with patients. They are the ones who are examining data and putting together treatment plans for their patients. They do meet with patients occasionally to make sure everything is going to plan. PTAs are the ones who execute and track the plans though, making them an essential part of any team.
To be a PTA, a two-year associate’s degree is the minimum qualification needed. If a PTA wants to eventually become a full-time PT, there are some steps they need to take. As of 2017, PTs are required to have a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree (DPT). There are three options to transition from PTA to PT and receive the necessary degrees.
Option 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree and then enroll in a three-year DPT degree program.
Option 2: Find a degree program that combines undergrad and graduate requirements so you can get your bachelor’s and DPT all at once.
Option 3: Earn your bachelor’s degree, then attend a bridge program available to PTAs who want to become PTs. These programs are the only option that formally incorporates what you learned while becoming a PTA.
The APTA notes that “these programs offer PTAs the opportunity to gain advanced knowledge within…or related to physical therapy…and/or prepare the PTA to apply to a graduate program in physical therapy.” To view a list of the schools that offer these programs, visit the APTA’s website.
According to the APTA, bridge programs were developed when the PT degree was at the undergraduate or baccalaureate level (four years). This allowed the bridge programs to accept some of the undergraduate PTA courses toward the PT degree. Today, however, the DPT is the standard education level for entry into the PT profession, and programs cannot accept undergraduate work toward graduate credits. Since bridge programs are much less common today than they were in the past, there are now only two accredited programs:
- The University of Findlay in Finlay, Ohio. This program is a rigorous, 3-year course that includes weekend, evening, or online coursework. Additionally, the PTA must continue to work as a PTA for at least 40 hours a month while in the Findlay program.
- The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in Galveston, Texas. This program requires students to have a bachelor’s degree and a current physical therapy assistant license with two years of experience. Also, those enrolled in the program must be able to work 20 hours per week or less while completing coursework.
If neither of these bridge programs works for you, you don’t have to settle! The APTA offers helpful resources for finding programs if you currently have a PTA Associate’s degree. Once you obtain a bachelor’s degree, it will make pursuing the PT career path much easier. Be sure to carefully review all requirements for each program and make sure you’re making the right decision!
Once you have received the necessary degrees to transition from a PTA to PT, it is important to make sure you take the exam to license you in whichever state you want to work in. In case you are unfamiliar, the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy administers the NPTE. The minimum passing score is 600. The location will vary depending on where you are taking the exam. For more information about the NPTE or becoming a PT visit APTA’s page about the exam.Browse PTA jobs here!
Hopefully, now you’re more informed about the PTA to PT transition process. It can be a bit intense at times, but your hard work will definitely pay off in the end! Check out our infographic for a visual comparison of PTA vs PT jobs!