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Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow much faster than average—up 33 percent from 2008 to 2018. Salaries are likewise robust. Physical therapy assistants, who typically hold only an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, earn average salaries of $46,000. Experienced pros with master’s degrees net about $80,000 a year.
The downside? This great-paying career suffers from deceptive advertising by online schools that are not properly accredited. Not all online physical therapy programs meet state licensing standards. Many advertise by using search engine terms that imply their online training programs might meet licensing standards.
Want to become a physical therapist? Get educated about an physical therapy school accreditation, how to find the best online PTA programs, and licensing requirements before you enroll.
Physical Therapy Schools Online
In researching physical therapy schools, make sure the nursing and healthcare degree you’re considering is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). It is nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as the accreditor for licensing degree programs in this field.
CAPTE accredits both entry-level education programs for physical therapist assistants (PTAs) and physical therapists (PTs).
Be wary of any school that markets itself as offering an online “physical therapy assistant program” only to switch terms later and refer to the program as “aide training.”
Some for-profit schools use the marketing phrase “physical therapy assistant” only to provide a lesser type of training for physical therapy “aide” positions. “Aide” training is not the same as “assistant” training. “Aide” programs will not, in most cases, meet the accreditation standards of CAPTE or state standards for licensure later as a professional PT or PTA.
Online PTA Programs — Hybrid Options
Most states require physical therapist assistants to complete at least an associate’s degree. Such degree programs include both academic and theoretical study in subjects such as anatomy, biology and chemistry, as well as hands-on experience in patient care.
Many physical therapy associate degree programs require applicants to demonstrate a minimum of 50-150 hours of actual work in assisting the physically challenged prior to taking any courses.
Licensing or registration is required by 48 out of 50 states post-degree to work a physical therapy assistant. Each state mandates specific educational and exam criteria. Additional requirements may include certification in CPR and first aid. A minimum number of hours of supervised hands-on clinical experience will be required. Check with your state licensing board to see what is required to work as a licensed or registered PT in your region.
Many community colleges offer physical therapy assistant associate degree programs that require classroom attendance for clinical care and lab courses. These same programs then allow theory courses in areas such as anatomy or English to be completed online.
There currently are no 100 percent online PTA degrees as this degree requires clinical supervision as well as lab courses that cannot be completed online. Check with your local community or state college for hybrid—part online and part on campus—physical therapy assistant degrees.
Best Physical Therapy Schools for an Online MPT
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, the median wage for a physical therapist is about $80,000 with variances based on place of employment and years of practice.
To earn that wage as well as the right to call yourself a physical therapist in most states, you’ll need to complete at least an online master’s in physical therapy and have a record of clinical work as a PT assistant in a licensed medical facility.
After completing an accredited physical therapist program, you’ll still need to pass a national licensure exam.
The doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree is increasingly looked upon as the professional standard, especially for PTs who work inside clinical hospitals or want to research and teach in training programs.
In fact, the master’s degree option is being phased out by most accredited PT training programs between 2013 and 2015. A doctorate in physical therapy (DPT) is rapidly becoming the standard for licensure as a physical therapist.
Transitional DPT Online
A new type of professional degree for licensed PT practitioners is now available in an online format. The transitional doctor of physical therapy (tDPT) degree is geared to practicing clinicians. This accelerated doctorate degree is appropriate for PTs who have already earned a MPT degree.
The tDPT is a post-professional clinical doctorate that can be earned through a combination of online coursework, clinical practice in a local setting and very brief campus residencies.