Physical Therapist Assistant A.A.S. - Additional Information

General Information

A Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) is a health care worker who works under the direction and supervision of a Physical Therapist. PTAs perform physical therapy interventions such as therapeutic exercise, heat and cold treatments, electrical stimulation, soft tissue mobilization/massage or ambulation training. These techniques are designed to improve the patient’s musculoskeletal function by achieving such goals as relieving pain, improving strength, increasing movement and function and preventing or lessening physical disabilities.

Patient Problem Areas Often Seen in Physical Therapy Clinics

  • fractured bones
  • total hips and knees
  • loss of motion
  • athletic injuries
  • back/neck pain
  • surgical procedures
  • open wounds/burns
  • pediatric development disabilities
  • stroke/head injury
  • muscle weakness
  • cardiovascular dysfunction
  • spinal cord injury

Length of Training

This program is designed for the student who does not intend to transfer to a graduate degree program in physical therapy; two-years minimum are required to complete the curriculum for the Physical Therapist Assistant Program.

Since the Physical Therapist Assistant curriculum is heavily composed of science courses including anatomy and physiology, functional anatomy, and pathology, students seeking admission into the Physical Therapist Assistant Program may begin to take general education and support science courses prior to acceptance into the program. This includes any course located in the summary of required hours other than those with a “PTAT“ prefix.

Additional Requirements & Expectations

Essential Functions

For students to succeed in the PTA Program, they must have the following qualities:

Motor Skills

Sufficient gross & fine motor abilities to provide safe & effective physical therapy interventions

  • Sit, stand, walk up to 2 hours without a break
  • Ability to perform lifting, carrying, pulling, pushing, reaching, crawling, kneeling, climbing and walking using proper body mechanics
  • Move, adjust & position patients or equipment which involves bending, stooping to the floor, reaching overhead, lifting, pulling or pushing up to 250 lbs.
  • Perform CPR & emergency care
  • Use equipment that emits electrical, ultrasonic, thermal energy
  • Execute skilled movement required for safe and effective physical therapy treatment
  • Demonstrate adequate speed, agility, coordination & balance to safely train and assist patients walking on uneven terrain, stairs, curbs, ramps, grass, gravel
  • Palpate anatomical structures and handle injured body parts without causing injury to the patient
  • Demonstrate & perform exercise programs without injury to self or patients
  • Safely grasp and manipulate small objects and dials
  • Demonstrate bi-manual dexterity sufficient to manipulate equipment used in therapy such as adjusting dials with one hand while moving a thermal device with the other

Sensory Skills

Sufficient auditory, visual and tactile ability to monitor and assess health needs

  • Respond to warning lights, alarms, calls for help
  • Use visual, auditory & tactile senses to observe patients and collect & interpret data
  • Visually: read pertinent materials, medical records, equipment specifications for patient care
  • Recognize and interpret facial expressions, body language, posture, identify patterns of movement, discriminate color changes and read/ set parameters on equipment
  • Auditorily: hear and respond to soft voices, auditory timers, emergency alarms (when not in direct line of site) and use devices for measurement of vital signs and breathe/ heart sounds
  • Tactilely: Perform palpation & physical assessment including palpating pulse, detecting changes in skin texture/ temperature/contour and muscles tone. Provide appropriate manual resistance during exercise

Critical Thinking/Intellectual Skills

Ability to collect, interpret and integrate information to make logical decisions & evaluate outcomes

  • Meet class standards for successful course completion including maintain at least a “C” grade in all course work required for the PTA Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree
  • Read, comprehend and apply relevant information in textbooks, computers, medical records and professional literature
  • Identify cause-effect relationships in the provision of health care
  • Know when & how to apply universal precautions (mask, gown, goggles, gloves)
  • Assess & monitor patient problems and appropriately adapt interventions as indicated
  • Respond calmly and effectively to emergencies

Communication Skills

Ability to communicate in English using verbal, non-verbal and written formats

  • Communicate effectively in English with faculty, other students, patients, families and health care professionals
  • Describe, demonstrate and teach physical therapy procedures in both oral and written formats
  • Proper use of medical terminology, grammar, spelling and punctuation in classroom, lab and clinical environments and ability to record information in a timely manner
  • Display active listening skills. Recognize, interpret and respond to non-verbal behavior of self and others
  • Record thoughts legibly and clearly for written assignments

Interpersonal Skills

Ability to work well with all PTA students, faculty, clinical instructors, patients/ families and medical professionals in classroom, lab and clinical settings

  • Recognize and respond appropriately to psychosocial and cultural impacts of dysfunction/ disability
  • Recognize and respond appropriately to individuals of all ages, genders, races, religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds
  • Work collaboratively with other students regardless of age, gender, race, religious or social background in the lab and classroom which requires the student to receive and provide treatment to various body parts including spine, neck, ribs, and extremities
  • Respond appropriately to stress of heavy workloads, deadlines, demanding patients and life-threatening clinical situations
  • Display maturity, emotional stability and sensitivity in academic, professional and clinical settings
  • Display ability to set priorities, concentrate on assigned duties and perform all aspects of therapy services in fast paced, highly stimulating environments
  • Perform concurrent tasks within established time constraints


Ability to demonstrate professional behaviors and a strong work ethic

  • Abide by the American Physical Therapy Standards of Ethical Conduct for the Physical Therapist Assistant (available at which includes respect, compassion, integrity, pursuit of lifelong learning and observation of legal obligations
  • Demonstrate a work ethic consistent with professional standards
  • Demonstrate respect for self, patients, fellow students, faculty, administration and other health care professionals
  • Maintain personal hygiene and professional appearance

Criminal Background Checks

Following acceptance and prior to entering the first career course in designated health care programs, each student must undergo a criminal background check in order to comply with policies of affiliating clinical practice agencies. It shall be the student’s responsibility to comply with instructions provided upon acceptance and provide the results by a designated date. The check will be at the expense of the student. Students who do not meet this requirement in a timely manner or whose background does not meet agency standards will not be able to successfully complete the program.

Additionally, a criminal background may preclude licensure or employment. Individuals with a question concerning this should schedule an appointment with the program director.

Progression Policy

The Physical Therapist Assistant faculty will make all fair and reasonable efforts to help the student be successful in the Physical Therapist Assistant Program. Efforts usually include extensive counseling and remediation with faculty and/or referral to Career Planning and Counseling for additional assistance. A minimum overall semester grade point average of 2.0 must be maintained. Individual course and laboratory requirements are indicated in each course syllabus. A student who develops significant physical limitations or emotional distress during the course of the program may be asked to undergo additional physical or psychological evaluations to determine their ability to continue in the program. The program courses follow an attendance policy. Excessive unexcused absences, as defined in the Physical Therapist Assistant student handbook and course syllabi, will result in lowering the student’s final grade. All courses used to meet degree requirements must be passed with at least a grade of “C.”