Prospective Students: Who are PTs and PTAs?

Physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to elders, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. PTs examine each individual and develop a plan using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability.  

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) provide physical therapy services under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. PTAs help people of all ages who have medical problems, or other health-related conditions that limit their ability to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. PTAs work in a variety of settings including hospitals, outpatient clinics, home health, nursing homes, schools, sports facilities, and more. PTAs must complete a two-year associate's degree and are licensed, certified, or registered in most states.  

Physical Therapy Education FAQs

What school should I go to?

APTA doesn't rank schools or their programs, so we can't tell you which is the best option for you. What we can tell you is which programs are accredited (see link below). Graduating from an accredited program allows you to sit for the licensure exam.

So, what's accreditation?

Accreditation is the extensive review process conducted by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) to assure quality-both that the quality of your course work is high and that the program produces people qualified to serve the public. In order to take the licensure exam, you must have graduated from a CAPTE-accredited program.


What are the prerequisite courses for PT programs?

Prerequisites vary among programs. To be safe, check with the programs in which you are interested to learn their specific requirements. An APTA survey of schools found that more than 50 percent of PT programs require courses such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, statistics, psychology, and general biology. Other courses that may be required include English, social science, humanities, computers, medical terminology, exercise physiology, human development, kinesiology, organic chemistry, research methods, cell biology, and pathology.


Where can I find more information on schools?

The American Physical Therapy Association is a great first step in exploring physical therapy as a career. Check out this map of CAPTE-accredited programs across the country. Contact a representative at the school that you're interested in with specific questions.


Is the PTA program a stepping stone to a PT program?

In general, no. There are two "bridge" programs, one in California and one in Ohio, that allow PTAs to work while going to school on weekends. These programs award a Master's degree in Physical Therapy. PTA courses are undergraduate-level classes, so they don't meet the graduate degree requirements of PT courses. Additionally, there's not enough time in a PTA program to complete the prerequisite courses required by PT programs.