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 1o 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.
To be a PTA, a two-year associate’s degree is the minimum qualification needed. So, the first step in making the PTA to PT transition is to complete a bachelor’s degree program in physical therapy. Some associate degree programs are becoming affiliated with baccalaureate degree programs, either within their institution or at another one. 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. Once the PTA completes his or her bachelor’s degree, there are two options: pursue a master’s degree and then a doctorate, or enter a PTA to PTA bridge program.
If a PTA chooses this path, he or she will need to select one or more DPT programs of interest. Find a complete list of DPT education programs accredited and granted candidacy status by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) here. Be sure to look into the admission requirements for each program and complete the entire admissions process.
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!
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! If you have any questions or need further information, visit the APTA website or drop us a comment below!