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! It can be difficult navigating the path of the PTA to PT bridge program. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Let’s take a look at the different options you have to further your career.
PTA to PT Transition: What’s the Difference?
While both play essential roles in the field, PTAs and PTs have different responsibilities. Physical therapists typically spend less time actually interacting face-to-face with patients. After consulting with a patient and learning about their physical symptoms, they are responsible for coming up with a diagnosis. From there, they create a unique treatment plan specific to the injury. PTs have the important job of continually evaluating and recording a patient’s progress to ensure the patient is recovering properly.
PTAs are support-level physical therapists. Physical therapy assistants are in charge of working directly with patients on a daily basis to provide care. They oversee patients as they perform exercises and activities. PTAs ensure the movements are done safely, while providing motivation along the way. This line of work is fulfilling for many physical therapy assistants because they get to have constant interaction with their patients. Patients usually attend physical therapy for a long span of time as they regain mobility, so it’s not unusual for PTAs to form bonds with their patients, more often than not it’s the best part of the job! Typically, a PTA will stick with that career choice. However, around 10 percent of physical therapy assistants 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. Both jobs are incredibly important and provide equally necessary services. The educational curriculum is actually quite different for the two occupations, causing the move from PTA to PT to be a bit tricky. You have the option of enrolling in a PTA to PT bridge program, or exploring other options of returning to school.
PTA to PT Bridge Program
To become a PTA, you need to have earned a two-year associates degree. If a physical therapy assistant wants to transition to a physical therapist, there are some major steps they need to take. As of 2017, PTs are required to have a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree (DPT). There are a few different options to make the jump from PTA to PT and receive the necessary degrees. The first option is attending a PTA to PT bridge program.
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 physical therapy 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.
Be sure to carefully review all requirements for each program and make sure you’re making the right decision!
Further Your Education
If neither of these bridge programs work for you, you don’t have to settle! You can choose another route to become a physical therapist. Check out these options to see if either of them works for you.
Option 1: Return to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree and then enroll in a three-year DPT degree program.
Option 2: Find a degree program that combines undergraduate and graduate requirements so you can get your bachelor’s and DPT all at once.
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.” The APTA offers helpful resources for finding programs if you currently have a PTA associates 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.
Hopefully, now you’re more informed about the PTA to PT bridge program, and other options. It can be a bit intense at times, but your hard work will definitely pay off in the end!
Have you moved from a physical therapy assistant to a physical therapist? We’d love to hear your experience and any advice you would have to offer – let us know in the comments!