Online Physical Therapy Assistant Degree Programs

Learn about the tasks performed by a physical therapy assistant and the training needed for this career. Find out the classes and degree programs available along with licensure and employment outlook. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is the Difference Between a Physical Therapist and a Physical Therapy Assistant?

A physical therapy assistant works under the supervision of a physical therapist. A physical therapist's responsibilities include devising treatment plans or daily living activities plans for patients. A physical therapy assistant helps patients to work through these plans. For example, a physical therapist might assign specific exercises to a patient to rehabilitate a joint after surgery. After the exercises have been demonstrated to the patient, it is your job as a physical therapy assistant to observe the patient perform the exercises and provide help as needed.

You might also complete clerical tasks, such as ordering and maintaining supplies or answering the phone. Additionally, you might be responsible for taking session notes, including how a session went and what the patient accomplished. Associate's degrees are available to help prepare you for a career in this field.

Job ResponsibilitiesPatient observation, provide assistance performing specific physical therapy movements, clerical tasks, note taking
Online AvailabilityClinical components must be completed in-person, though some courses could be take online
Common Course TopicsTherapeutic exercise, kinesiology for rehabilitation, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology
Median Salary (2014)$41,640 for physical therapy assistants

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Can I Earn This Degree Online?

Since this is a hands-on job that involves working with people, you need to have practiced the necessary skills in your training or degree program; therefore, physical therapy assistant degrees aren't available completely online. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) of the American Physical Therapy Association lists a requirement for specific clinical education as a part of the accreditation process for this field (www.apta.org). While you cannot earn your degree completely online, you can take many of the required courses online; however, clinical components need to be completed in person. Degree programs in this allied health field typically lead to an Associate of Science.

What Courses Will I Take?

Each accredited program includes a supervised clinical component, where you can practice your acquired skills while working directly with patients. The core classes in a physical therapy assistant degree program, many of which can be taken online, include topics like:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Kinesiology for rehabilitation

What Are the Requirements To Work in This Field?

According to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (www.fsbpt.org), you must be at least 18 years old to become a physical therapy assistant in most states. Some states require a criminal record check and fingerprinting. Most states require that you have an associate's degree in order to obtain licensure. There is also an exam for initial or renewal licensure, required by many states. A certain amount of physical strength is also a requirement for most jobs in this field.

Most people who seek this kind of work pursue a degree program at the associate's level. It is extremely uncommon to find a bachelor's degree program in physical therapy assisting. Degree programs at the bachelor's level are more likely to prepare you for graduate study to become a physical therapist.

You can find jobs in a variety of places, like hospitals, clinics and doctor's offices, as well as fitness centers and sports training facilities. Some large corporations also provide jobs in the workplace. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities in this field are expected to grow by 40%, faster than the national average from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). In 2014, the median wage for a physical therapy assistant was $41,640 a year, also per the BLS.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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