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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Is the PTA Profession Changing?

Published January 13, 2009 2:32 PM by Lisa Lombardo

Preview: CSM 2009

How has the changing profession of physical therapy impacted PT assistants? Changes to Medicare, third-party payer rules, an ever-aging patient population, a stagnant economy and fluctuating demand for therapy services can make an impact on PTAs and how they are used. Many in the profession think it already has. We at ADVANCE hear from PTAs regularly who express concerns about how they are used in their work settings and what their education options mean for their future.

Recent Letters to the Editor show this concern. One writer wrote: "I have been a practicing PTA since 1995 and due to the limited options for advancing my career in PT, I have started to school to get a degree in exercise science. I'm just hoping there will be a bridge program out there when I finish. I work with some wonderful PTs who do appreciate PTAs and have often been asked why I didn't go on to be a PT. It's because the options aren't there."

Another opined: "I too am constantly being asked for my advice and experience regarding how to treat patients...At the time I went to PTA school, it was very difficult to even be considered for admission to a PT program, so I opted for the PTA route knowing that there was a transition program in my state. We are always hearing about the DPT, but never anything about programs or options for PTA's to advance their education. When is it finally going to be our turn to get the recognition and options we deserve?"

This year, the APTA has decided to address concerns about the future for PTAs in a session "Physical Therapists Assistant or Physical Therapist Substitute: Real Life Cases Clarify the PTA's Role." Catch it on Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. if you are headed to the Combined Sections Meeting in Las Vegas Feb. 9-12. Judging by the comments ADVANCE receives I think the session will be a popular one and one that is welcomed by PTAs both in the APTA and outside the organization. The session plans to address the role of PTAs as it was originally established more than 40 years ago compared to how they are used today, consult research on how PTAs are directed in the workplace and compare APTA utilization practices with that research, discuss PTA practice within various settings and suggest better methods on using PTAs properly in all settings.

Is such a discussion a long time coming? Perhaps it can get a dialogue started, and address questions on how the PTA profession will fare in the future, given the expansion of the DPT and possible drops in PT applications. We'd love to hear from both PTAs and PTs on their thoughts about this.


I would love the opportunity to further my career as a therapist. As a PTA that has been practicing for over 10 years feel that it is foolish that if I would like to become a PT that I would have to start "from scratch". I feel that programs should be offered as they are in nursing if we would like to advance our careers. This could be an answer to the drop in PT student admissions if we could advance the PTA's that are actively practicing.  I think a "seasoned" practioner brings more to the table than a new grad any day.

Vanessa November 9, 2011 6:27 PM

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this post.

sara ceejay August 11, 2011 11:21 AM

I am a PTA with 10 years exerience in Orthopedics/Sports Medicine Currently working the Home Health and I am very concerned reguarding the direction of the PTA. The first time I read "Vision 2020" I remember thinking, " What is going to happen to us?'". I am a member of the APTA and fully support the continuing growth of the PT as an key part of the health care team, and I have had the pleasure of working with many wonderful therapists who have taught me the skills I know today and have helped mold me into the clinician that I am today. But...I said TEAM and I believe strongly that PTA's are a key part of the rehabilitaion team in optimal results for patients and when ulitized, as I have always been, can be crucial in a patient's success. Therefore, I am concerned about our place in "Vision 2020". We must as PTA's let our voices be heard in order to become a part of "Vision 2020". We need to become active in seeking that all PTA's in all 50 states seek to further education standards so that we have the atonomy to move forward as providers. We also need to become more active as APTA members so that we may advocate for our future. I absolutely love what I do in touching several lifes everyday as my patients regain the function they have lost due to injury or illness and I can't imagine not being able to continue in my career.

Lyn Dahm, Home Health - PTA, Contract November 30, 2009 8:08 PM

There are PTAs who prefer to continue their career as PTAs in comparison to PTs who prefer not to persue a DPT designation. The difference is PTs have the option to grow where as the PTA who may have the experience and skills to further promote themselves and profession are left stagnant. Several allied healthcare professionals with equal or less training than PTAs have options to continue to grow within their professions such as LPN to RN to BSN or CRRT to RRT. I believe there are many skilled and committed PTAs who are feeling stagnated leave physical therapy and enter other healthcare professions. I hope the APTA will realize the potential growth and promote from within.

Tom January 20, 2009 1:24 PM

I think this will be great.  

Hopefully the APTA will address all the issues that have arisen in the last 10 plus years.  

My first "Letter to the Editor" in Advance about 10 years ago addressed the issue of raising education levels or offering advanced training.  The APTA offers the training but has not focused on it like they have with the DPT issue.

As you read in my blog postings and in the print editions the PTA's have concerns and these do need to be addressed.  

I hope the APTA will acurately address these issues rather than what the title says about the PTA, "Physical Therapist Substitute"

If it is a case study on what PTA's did wrong and what they could have done better I will pass.  If the APTA will address where the Assistants will be in 2020 I will attend.  

Jason January 19, 2009 12:42 AM

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