Chattahoochee Technical College is about to graduate its fourth class of physical therapist assistants — and their job prospects are terrific.
“Our students have had a 100 percent pass rate on their national licensure exam and a 100 percent employment rate. Most of them have multiple job offers as soon as they graduate,” said Stephanie Puffer, PT, DPT, PCS, program director.
National statistics confirm that high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 46 percent job growth for physical therapist assistants (PTAs) from 2010 to 2020.
Working under the direction of physical therapists, PTAs help patients regain movement after injury, illness or surgery. They work in skilled-nursing facilities, outpatient orthopedic and rehabilitation clinics, hospitals and private practices.
“Our whole purpose is to improve a patient’s function and movement, but the goals differ from patient to patient,” Puffer said. “Return to function for a professional athlete would mean return to an elite level of competition while, for someone with a chronic illness, function might mean being strong enough to grocery shop or play with her grandkids.”
Physical therapists assess and write a care plan for patients, but it is often physical therapist assistants who work one-on-one with patients to carry out those plans and assess a patient’s response to treatment. PTAs may suggest adjustments to get better results.
“They usually have their own case loads and work fairly autonomously within the stricture of their licensure,” Puffer said. “And there are many career paths. If they tire of working with one population, they can change jobs and find a whole different set of challenges and rewards. They are highly respected professionals."
Becoming a PTA takes someone with the determination to get through challenging coursework and the dedication to show compassion and caring on a daily basis.
“We look for people who want to help people, who have the ability to interact well with others, who can think critically and are committed to lifelong learning. With new research and technology, things are always changing in this field,” she said.
The PTA associate degree program is housed on the school’s North Metro campus. With prerequisites, it takes about 26 months to complete the program. Tuition is about $6,885, plus fees and textbooks. Financial aid is available for many students.
The program accepts 20 students each fall and applications during spring semester. Admission is competitive, with GPAs, interviews, essays and TEAS/Hobet exam scores considered.
Students learn about functional anatomy and kinesiology, disease pathology, rehabilitation techniques, and physical therapy procedures and modalities (such as ultrasound). They practice hands-on skills during three internships in which they work at different locations with various patient populations.
“Starting salaries for our graduates average between $40,000 and $50,000,” Puffer said. “There’s a lot of information to learn and a lot of work, but it’s worth it because most PTAs love what they do. They come back from internships excited, and that tells me they have chosen the right profession.”