Physical Therapist Assistant with pediatric patient

How to Become a School Physical Therapist Assistant

Learn About Requirements, Certifications, Duties, and Salary Ranges

Physical Therapist Assistant with pediatric patient

Think about it like this: Physical therapy promotes participation in schools. These professionals help ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education. In some cases, they prepare these students for continued education, employment, and independent living. One integral member of school-based teams is the School Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). This is an incredibly rewarding career path for the right person.

Our career guide will teach you all you need to know about becoming a School Physical Therapist Assistant. We’ll cover the required schooling, certifications, and what to expect from your work environment. This guide also details how much you could make and how long it usually takes to launch your career as a School PTA.

(Click here to see our full list of the top Physical Therapist Assistant jobs.)

School Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

This unique specialty allows Physical Therapist Assistants to mainly work with children in various environments. They are essential members of school-based teams that help ensure an appropriate education for students with disabilities. School PTAs aim to prepare students for further education, employment, and independent living in the future.

(Click here to learn how to become a Physical Therapist Assistant.)

School Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a School Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

School PTAs assist students who have disabilities or injuries, helping them acclimate to their surroundings so that they can continue their education. Not only do they use hands-on therapy, but they might recommend certain technologies or equipment to better assist them at school.

School Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do School Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

As their name suggests, School Physical Therapist Assistants work in various learning environments. These settings can range from public to private and residential schools. In this role, School PTAs often work with a variety of students, such as children with disabilities or special-needs students.

School Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Although job duties can vary depending on your location and employer, the daily tasks of a School Physical Therapist Assistant will generally include the following:

  • Measuring strength and range of motion to monitor patients’ progress during recovery
  • Assisting patients with exercise programs prescribed by a physical therapist
  • Performing hands-on therapy like stretching or massages
  • Teaching patients how to continue their recovery progress at home
  • Preparing and organizing therapeutic equipment
  • Scheduling appointments and responding to emails

Close up of African-American child performing exercises in physical therapy

School PTA Education Requirements & Certifications

What Degree Do You Need to Become a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

Like Acute Care PTAs, School Physical Therapist Assistants must earn an associate degree and pass the NPTE exam before they can seek licensure in the state where they wish to practice. However, many School PTAs must also acquire specialized training to ensure they can properly care for children. This means they may need to obtain additional certification from organizations like the American Physical Therapy Association.

How Long Does It Take to Become a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

You must complete an associate-degree program to become a School Physical Therapist Assistant. While most programs require two years of school, an accelerated program would allow you to earn a PTA degree in as little as 20 months. The journey to becoming a PTA is best broken down into a series of smaller steps. Keep in mind that if you take a full course load, you will be able to earn your degree faster than those who take classes part-time.

Our guide breaks down what it takes to become a School Physical Therapist Assistant:

1. Complete a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Program

In the United States, Physical Therapist Assistants must obtain an associate degree from a PTA program that’s accredited by CAPTE. Most of these programs will have their own set of admissions requirements. For instance, to qualify for the PTA degree program at Unitek College, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED, a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, and more. The Unitek College program also requires background checks and drug screenings.

Like most associate-degree programs, your PTA education will include some general-education requirements (i.e., English, science, and psychology). These courses will help you become a better critical thinker and communicator, both of which are important attributes for Physical Therapist Assistants.

However, most of your program will focus on the specific skills and knowledge you need to excel as a Physical Therapist Assistant. Through your coursework, you’ll build a deep understanding of the human body and learn how to provide therapy to patients with injuries or illnesses. You’ll take courses that cover applied kinesiology; therapeutic exercise; health, disease, and disability; and more. You’ll also participate in hands-on training to teach you how to rehabilitate patients to the best of your ability.

2. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

Before earning your PTA license and starting your career, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) to prove you’ve mastered the necessary skills to perform PTA tasks. The NPTE is a multiple-choice test with 200 questions. You’ll have four hours to complete the exam.

If you’re a nervous test taker, you might want to consider taking some practice exams first. Go to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy website to learn more about these exams. They offer PEAT, or the Practice Exam and Assessment Tool, to provide you with an idea of what to expect on the exam. Keep in mind that you can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period.

Smiling young woman wearing headphones and using a laptop

3. Obtain Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

Once you’ve passed the NPTE, you’ll be eligible to become licensed in the state(s) where you plan to work. Because the NPTE is a national exam, it’s usually easy to transfer your scores to gain licensure in different states. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy will be your go-to resource for determining each state’s licensing requirements for PTAs.

Some states have different requirements for maintaining your PTA license. However, most states will require the completion of ongoing education programs or proof of current employment and relevant work experience.

4. Acquire Work Experience and Additional Certifications

To become a School PTA, you will need to build your resume and gain work experience. If you’d like to stand out from other job candidates, you should also obtain certification in basic life support (BLS). In addition, you might want to consider advanced specialization or certification.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offers training in school-based physical therapy, where you can expand your PTA skills and knowledge when it comes to caring for patients who reside in schools and often have disabilities or injuries. Not only will these certifications help you stand out, but they can also lead to greater salaries and opportunities. Advanced certifications would also help your resume stand out during the job search for School PTAs.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a School Physical Therapist Assistant?

Although Physical Therapist Assistants come in all shapes and sizes, the ideal PTA should hold several important qualities. They should have excellent interpersonal skills and a compassionate nature because they are helping others learn how to manage pain. In addition, they should be detail-oriented, maintaining diligent notes on each patient and reporting back to the physical therapist. Physical stamina is another essential element of this job. Not only will you be on your feet throughout the day, but you’ll often need to move patients into specific positions, which can require that you kneel or stoop for extended periods of time.

School Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do School Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

In the United States, Physical Therapist Assistants earn an average annual salary of about $65,000, which is around $31 per hour. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top industries for PTAs include home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, hospitals, and offices of various practitioners.

While the BLS doesn’t offer salary information for School PTAs, Physical Therapist Assistants usually receive a competitive salary that can increase depending on their specializations and experience.

Physical Therapist Assistant helping a child perform exercises

Why are Schools a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

If you want to work with kids and you hate cubicles, then a career as a School PTA could be the right move for you! School-aged children are learning and growing every day, so it can be very rewarding to help them learn and retain their mobility. You will also likely be kept on your toes, as children may come with various developmental or physical conditions.

Plus, School PTAs benefit from a variety of tasks. They also work with clients who have different needs, follow treatment plans for different age groups, thrive in a positive work environment, and perform a job that truly matters. Since you will typically assist students over a period of years, you will get to witness their progress in real-time. It can be so fulfilling to help children achieve their goals and move forward in life.

Start Your Educational Journey as a School PTA

For people who love the idea of helping children live their best lives, becoming a School PTA could be an ideal career choice. Disabilities and injuries can be an unfortunate part of life, but school-based physical therapy teams promote participation and help children regain mobility. Without a doubt, there will always be a need for healthcare professionals like School Physical Therapist Assistants.

If you’re interested in becoming a PTA, you should check out the Physical Therapist Assistant program at Unitek College. Don’t waste another minute and start your journey to become a PTA today!