Celebrating 50 Years of Physical Therapy Assistants

March 15, 2019

When you come to Campbell Clinic for physical therapy, you are likely to interact with one of our amazing physical therapy assistants (PTAs). It is hard to imagine our clinic without these diligent workers, but a little more than 50 years ago, the occupation didn’t even exist!

While the idea for physical therapy assistants sparked in the 1940s after World War I and during a polio outbreak, it wasn’t until 1967 that Congress adopted a policy to establish educational standards, scope of practice and licensure for physical therapy aides and assistants. That same year, the first programs for PTAs were established in Florida and Minnesota. By 1971, there were 10 approved PTA educational programs, and that number continued to grow throughout the following decades. As of today, there are more than 350 accredited PTA programs in the U.S.

What Is a Physical Therapy Assistant?

While you may work with them during your appointments, you may not fully understand what a PTA is and does. The job description is in the name itself. PTAs help patients under the supervision of a physical therapist to recover from injuries and illness. They assist patients through exercises, stretching and other conditioning, to manage pain and to regain function and mobility. They also track patient progress and counsel them on day-to-day issues.

While there are hundreds of accredited programs to become a physical therapy assistant, gaining licensure is no easy feat. Once accepted into a program, students must complete two years of training – usually five semesters – and take part in externships at facilities such as Campbell Clinic. Once their educational training is complete, graduates must pass a national examination.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a 30 percent growth in PTA jobs between 2016 and 2026. Students are enthused by this growth in the industry as well.

Cameron Kawell, a PTA student at South College says, “I am excited to join the PTA field because it gives me the opportunity to help people return to or maintain the level of function in their lives. That looks like anything from returning to their marathon training program to kids gaining the strength to walk for the first time to an older person regaining the strength to go up the three steps in into their home, allowing them to keep their autonomy. I am honestly excited about being with patients and allowing them to heal so that they can reach their true potential.”

Learn more about the PTA profession from the American Physical Therapy Association.


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