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How to Become an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant

Learn About Requirements, Certifications, Duties, and Salary Ranges

Male medical professional assisting a patient

Picture this scenario: You are on the mend in a hospital. Maybe you underwent surgery or experienced another form of trauma. Your doctor has prescribed several sessions of physical therapy before you can leave. When you arrive at the clinic, you will likely work with an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). These are stellar professionals who help patients recover from serious injury or illness. Their goal is to help other people get back on their feet and lead fulfilling lives.

This career guide will teach you all you need to know about becoming an Acute Care 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 an Acute Care PTA.

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

Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

After a significant injury or surgery, it’s vital that patients take their first steps toward mobility and exercise. This is where Acute Care Physical Therapy Assistants come in; they help people start the recovery process from incidents like surgery, trauma, or illness (i.e., stroke).

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

Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

An Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant is involved in the direct care of patients who have undergone surgery or trauma. They may prepare patients for therapy, measure their progress, and document important details for the physical therapist. In addition, Acute Care PTAs often help patients perform exercises under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

Generally, Acute Care PTAs work in hospitals or critical-care clinics. This is because they are needed wherever patients are treated for medical emergencies. They may even work with hospitalized patients in rooms, hallways, or other nearby areas. In addition, these Physical Therapy Assistants might work at physical therapy facilities under the direction of a physical therapist. In these facilities, Acute Care PTAs can assess a patient’s condition and assist them through exercises or treatments.

Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Although job duties can vary depending on your location and employer, the daily tasks of an Acute Care PTA 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

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Acute Care PTA Education Requirements & Certifications

What Degree Do You Need to Become an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

The journey to becoming an Acute Care PTA starts with obtaining an associate degree from an accredited PTA program. Then, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) so that you can become licensed by the state in which you practice. Many Acute Care Physical Therapy Assistants also complete focused training in acute care physical therapy. If you’d like more information, The American Physical Therapy Association offers skilled training in acute care.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

To become an Acute Care PTA, you must complete an associate-degree program. Most of these programs require two full years of school, but with an accelerated program, you could earn your PTA degree in as little as 20 months. Just like most big achievements in life, the path 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 an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant:

1. Complete a Physical Therapist Assistant Degree Program

The first step on your path to becoming an Acute Care PTA is to complete a PTA program at an accredited school. Keep in mind that PTA careers are accessible for almost anyone who is willing to study hard and take their education seriously. 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 like 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.

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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.

Remember: Not everyone passes the NPTE on their first attempt, but this doesn’t mean that you should give up. However, be advised that you can only retake the test up to three times in any given 12-month period, so be sure to take your exam preparation seriously.

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.

Keep in mind that 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

You will need to build your resume and gain work experience before pursuing a career as an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant. 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 acute care physical therapy, where you can expand your PTA skills and knowledge when it comes to caring for patients who are recovering from trauma or surgery. Not only will these certifications help you stand out, but they can also lead to greater salaries and opportunities.

What Skills Do You Need to Become an Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

The ideal Physical Therapist Assistant possesses several important qualities. They should be compassionate as they interact with their patients and help them manage pain. They should also have a detail-oriented nature and interpersonal skills. In addition, physical stamina is a vital component 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.

Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do Acute Care 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 Acute Care PTAs, Physical Therapist Assistants usually receive a competitive salary that can increase depending on their specializations and experience.

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Why is Acute Care a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

Like trauma nurses, a career as an Acute Care PTA could be ideal if you prefer fast-paced environments where you treat critically ill patients. You could help patients recover their mobility after major operations like heart surgery or work with people in the oncology unit. There will always be a need for physical therapy after life-altering conditions. In this role, you are sure to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Start Your Educational Journey as an Acute Care PTA

For people who love the idea of helping others return to peak form, becoming an Acute Care PTA could be an ideal career choice. Injuries and illness will always be an unfortunate part of life, and so there will always be a need for healthcare professionals like Acute Care Physical Therapist Assistants. Learn how to care for all types of people and experience the satisfaction of seeing bedridden patients become healthy again.

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!