PTA to PT Bridge Program | Everything You Need to Know

PTA to PT Bridge Program | Everything You Need to Know

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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.

pta to pt bridge program

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!

pta to pt bridge program

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!

Licensure Exam

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!

Author: Allied Travel Careers

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  1. Besides those two schools ? Are there any other schools that help PTA become PT ? I have my bachelors but both those schools are too far from me.

  2. Today No one have taken into account that PTA has less value than AT , MT ,or Perosnal trainer , because all those professions can develope their own business under their license ,PTA has to work under PT supervision, and now many insurance are paying less if the treatments have been done by PTA ,as a result less job opportunity will be available for PTA. Even more APTA do not recognize that the best DPT is an exepriemented PTA , they has to open more easy way and opportunity to PTA become in DPT

  3. I am a licensed PTA, practicing for for 23 years. I also have a bachelors degree in Business. My associate degree was actually my second career choice. I would love a program preferably online to transition from a PTA to a PT or DPT. I am very nervous that soon PTA will be eliminated from healthcare. .

  4. I am a PTA with a Bachelors degree in Communications. PTA was my second career choice as I could not find a job with my Bachelors. I’ve been practicing for 8 years, and just recently lost my job due to “elimination of my position”, and a new PT was brought in (my place I assumed). I am struggling to find full time work now. It is a scary time, this was my last effort and took thousands of dollars in debt to find a secure career, and now it’s in serious jeopardy. I cannot afford to start over a 3rd time. PTAs are not understood by the public, the healthcare system, or even the therapy world itself (hiring companies) at how valuable and skilled they really are, and our license is not viewed like any other medical professional license. It’s a serious shame.

  5. Man, we are so sorry to hear that!! I know that is a real challenge of the profession. Have you looked at our travel job listings? Maybe you can find a temporary assignment close to home. Best of luck to you!

  6. PTAs are screwed with the PDGM changes. I’ve spent over 10 years and thousands of dollars on education and continuing education not to mention jumping through all the hoops for licensure and state requirements. Now you can’t hardly find a job as companies only want PTs and PTAs are only needed as PRN positions.
    This is rediculous there is no better way for PTAs to advance to become PTs. Hell I know more than some of the PTs I’ve worked with in the past!
    Someone should be sued for that PDGM change as it has wrecked the livelihoods of thousands of therapists and they’re families.

  7. May you give some examples for Option 2, please?

  8. Yes! I am a PTA of 25 years. I have a Bachelors’s. and the APTA lets people in our shoes down. The APTA should have more programs or online options for people in our shoes. ( Even if the number is only 10%. Not everyone lives in Texas or Ohio.) BESIDES, how is it that a person with NO experience in the field of physical therapy can earn a bachelor’s degree and enter an online hybrid DPT program, wherein 90% of their schooling is online?? Meantime, there is not such a thing for PTA’s with some knowledge, dare I say significant knowledge, who have a BS or BA? I realize that PTA to PT is a Career change as it has been argued by many DPT’s and PT’s in general. Ok, I can accept that. However, as a PTA with 25 years of experience and a bachelor’s, I certainly know more than a person who just has a bachelors and no experience in the field, and is about to start an online DPT program?? ( or hybrid program where 90%-95% of classes are online)The educational systems as well as the APTA have let us down in this regard. ( So far I have found 4 such programs and these are NOT for people who are already PT’s , doing the transitional DPT, these are online DPT programs for people just entering the field. (0-95% of classes are online and they must go to the campus 5 times throughout the schooling for practicums.)

  9. Let’s keep in mind with the cuts that the CMS are proposing to PTAs going forward. If these go through, we will be a dying field. The APTA does need to do more to help current licensed PTAs move into DPT programs! We need help maintain our jobs we love!! The APTA CAN HELP BY: First by requiring schools to take previous experience and secondly requiring schools to take nationally accredited class work, or requiring all schools to become regionally accredited. Most DPT programs only take classes earned at regionally accredited schools. I’d hazard a guess that a lot of PTAs got their degree at PIMA so their degree is basically useless in the end— even if they are highly prepared and highly capable providers. The APTA doesn’t help PTAs and still views us as the red headed step child. What I remind the PTs I encounter who have the “better than complex” —(nearly daily) is that we all have taken the same licensing exam. (PTAs 4 sections, PTs 5 sections) We all take the same continuing education classes, PTAs are able to certify in specialties… so WHY is it so hard to get into school to get a doctorate??

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