Online Physical Therapy Assistant Associate Degree Programs

The Most Affordable Paths & Career Potential in Physical Therapy Assistant

If you are passionate about helping people heal, a job as a physical therapy assistant could be right for you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs in physical therapy to increase 22% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Associate programs in the field help students gain fundamental knowledge in neuromuscular, cardiopulmonary, integumentary, and musculoskeletal dysfunctions. Earning a physical therapy assistant associate degree online can be an accessible option for busy students. What is a physical therapy assistant? This guide covers the job duties of professionals in the field, along with common occupations for graduates and typical salaries.

What Will You Learn in an Online Associate Physical Therapy Assistant Program?

Students earning their physical therapy assistant associate degree online typically begin with general education coursework. Required classes vary by school. Learners progress to physical therapy classes that cover topics such as the principles of therapeutic exercise, psychology, and anatomy and physiology.

Practical coursework in ethics and legal aspects of physical therapy help students develop administrative skills. Most programs culminate with a clinical experience during which students work a set number of hours under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Common Classes and Coursework

Prospective students should research curricula to ensure that they choose a program that aligns with their interests and career goals. Although curricula vary by school, students typically complete the courses below while earning a physical therapy assistant associate degree online.

Introduction to Physical Therapy

This introductory course covers the history and philosophy of physical therapy. Students learn about the duties of a physical therapist assistant, including ethical and legal obligations and professionalism standards. Materials introduce students to the American Physical Therapy Association guidelines and standards.

Growth and Development

This course explores healthy developmental and human growth processes. Learners examine normal cognitive, motor and sensory, and psychosocial developmental markers.

Human Anatomy and Physiology

Students learn about the inner workings of the human body, including the respiratory system, skeletal system, muscular system, and circulatory system. This knowledge prepares students for work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and private offices.

Pediatric Rehabilitation

This course prepares students to provide physical therapy to children who have disabilities or other physical care needs. Many physical therapist assistants work in home-based interventions and schools. This class teaches students how to conduct interventions and use therapeutic methodology to help children who have MS, cancer, or movement disorders.

Acute Care

Physical therapist assistants who work in hospital settings provide short-term care to patients dealing with movement dysfunctions from surgery or medical conditions. This class teaches students how to use the patient-client management model to provide post-surgery physical therapy, including transfers and examinations.

Skills You Will Gain

Students earning a physical therapy assistant associate degree online gain a foundation in the physical and health sciences. Learners complete classes and labs in human anatomy and physiology and in community health. Students develop theoretical and practical knowledge of human anatomy and various treatment methods. Classes in general and abnormal psychology help learners understand neurological functions and their relationship to movement dysfunctions.

Physical therapy assistants work with people from various backgrounds. Coursework prepares physical therapy students to work with individuals who have various psychological dysfunctions, geriatric conditions, or physical and developmental disabilities. Learners prepare to execute the patient-client management model and implement treatment plans.

Physical therapy assistant associate programs prepare students to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam. All 50 states require candidates to pass the exam to qualify for licensure as a physical therapy assistant. Most associate programs in the field include clinical experience, during which students learn to implement physical therapy protocols and models.

Average Degree Length

Most online programs allow students to complete classwork and watch lectures at their convenience. Many online programs require no campus visits. However, physical therapy students may need to complete on-site clinical hours.

Physical therapy assistant associate programs generally require about 60 credits, including general education classes. Students typically earn their physical therapy assistant associate degree online in about two years. However, several factors can impact degree completion time.

Part-time students take fewer courses per semester and typically need longer to graduate. Learners can graduate more quickly by choosing an accelerated program, taking classes during winter terms, transferring previous credits, and taking more than four classes per semester.

Career Opportunities With an Associate Degree in Physical Therapy Assistant

Physical therapy assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists in settings including private and public hospitals and health facilities. These professionals help patients of all ages improve their mobility. The ideal career in the field depends on your interests, personality, and professional goals.

Potential Careers and Salaries

Physical therapist assistants usually work normal business hours; however, they may also work weekends or evenings. Positions are available in a variety of sectors. According to the BLS, a total of 247,700 physical therapists were employed in the U.S. in 2018.

The majority of physical therapist assistants work in offices where physical therapists deliver physical, occupational, and speech therapies. Graduates can also secure positions in private and public hospitals, home healthcare services, and nursing homes. Other physical therapist assistants are self-employed.

Rehabilitation Physical Therapy Assistant

These physical therapy assistants help implement treatment plans for patients recovering from an injury, illness, or surgery. They help patients improve their range of motion through exercises.

Median Annual Salary: $51,545

Orthopedic Physical Therapy Assistant

Physical therapist assistants in orthopedics settings work with patients who are recovering from musculoskeletal injuries or surgery. They can work in private practices, fitness facilities, hospitals, and clinics.

Median Annual Salary: $50,886

Home Health and Home Care Physical Therapy Assistant

Home health and home care physical therapy assistants provide rehabilitation services in clients' homes. These professionals help patients recover from pain. They assist clients as they increase mobility and improve muscular strength.

Median Annual Salary: $56,139

Acute Care Physical Therapy Assistant

These professionals assist physical therapists who deliver acute care. These therapy assistants work with patients on a short-term basis following surgery or a medical emergency. Many assistants work in hospitals or medical centers.

Median Annual Salary: $47,160

Geriatric Physical Therapy Assistant

Geriatric physical therapy assistants work in senior centers, where they help clients increase their physical exercise and restore their mobility. These professionals assist in physical activities to ease pain from aging. They may also perform administrative duties such as managing case files.

Median Annual Salary: $56,845

Source: PayScale

5 Physical Therapy Assistant Scholarships to Apply For

Scholarships are an ideal source of funding to help cover tuition costs. Unlike loans, scholarships do not require repayment. The scholarship programs below are open to learners pursuing a physical therapy assistant associate degree online or on campus.

Mary McMillan Scholarship Award
  • Who Can Apply: Physical therapy assistant students in the final year of their program can apply for this award. Applicants must be enrolled in a program with accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Applicants must submit an essay and two letters of support.
  • Amount: $3,000
See Scholarship
Minority Scholarship Award
  • Who Can Apply: Programs nominate minority students in their final year for this award. Nominators must submit a personal essay about the student's professional goals, three letters of recommendation, and transcripts.
  • Amount: TBD
See Scholarship
Indian Health Service Scholarship Program
  • Who Can Apply: American Indian and Alaskan Native students pursuing a degree in physical therapy can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must have at least a 2.0 GPA and be a U.S. citizen and a member of a federally recognized tribe. Recipients must complete two years of service at an American Indian health facility.
  • Amount: Tuition and fees, plus a stipend of about $1,500 per year
See Scholarship
Lettie Pate Whitehead Foundation Scholarships
  • Who Can Apply: This need-based scholarship supports Christian women at more than 200 accredited schools in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Applicants must be pursuing a degree in nursing, medicine, or allied health.
  • Amount: Varies
See Scholarship
Daughters of the American Revolution Awards
  • Who Can Apply: Each year, the Daughters of the American Revolution awards scholarships to three students who have been accepted to an accredited physical therapy school. Applicants must submit transcripts, a career statement, proof of financial need, and a personal statement.
  • Amount: Up to $2,000
See Scholarship

Educational Advancement in Physical Therapy Assistant

After earning a physical therapy assistant associate degree online, graduates can enter the workforce as a physical therapist assistant or transfer to a four-year program. Physical therapy students can pursue various bachelor's degrees, depending on their interests and career goals.

Should You Transfer to a Four-Year Degree Program?

While earning a physical therapy assistant associate degree online, students fulfill about half of the requirements of a bachelor's degree. Benefits of pursuing a four-year degree include increased earning potential and marketability. Students who plan to transfer to a four-year program should begin planning early in their associate studies. An academic advisor can help you assess credit requirements and provide information about transfer agreements your college maintains with four-year schools.

What Degree Paths Should You Consider?

After earning a physical therapy assistant associate degree online, graduates can pursue a variety of majors, depending on their goals and interests. The degree options below are common choices for graduates of physical therapy assistant associate programs.

Anatomy

A four-year degree in anatomy builds on associate coursework in human biology. Graduates of anatomy programs can work in various health professions, including biotechnology and physical therapy.

Sports & Health Sciences

Students pursuing this degree gain knowledge in nutrition, fitness, coaching, and anatomy and physiology. Coursework prepares students to work as physical education teachers, health educators, and personal trainers.

Healthcare Administration

Healthcare administration students prepare for administrative roles in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Coursework typically explores legal and ethical studies, business and finance, and human resources. Many graduates pursue roles as medical coding managers and medical executive assistants.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations and career resources can help graduates transition to the workforce. Professional organizations often provide access to job boards and networking events that can lead to career opportunities. The resources below are ideal for students and graduates of physical therapy assistant programs.

American Physical Therapy Association

  • Founded in 1921, APTA represents more than 100,000 physical therapy students and professionals. Members receive discounts on conferences and professional development opportunities, including certification. APTA also provides online job listings.


Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education

  • CAPTE, a national accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education, offers physical therapy professionals access to workshops and continuing education programs.


Evidence in Motion

  • Established in 2004, EIM promotes career development. The organization offers certifications, fellowships, and residencies. Many EIM courses follow a blended format with online lectures.


Foundation for Physical Therapy Research

  • Founded in 1979, this organization supports physical therapy professionals through funding and networking events. The foundation funds research through scholarships, grants, and fellowships.


Healthfinder.gov

  • This website helps health professionals stay informed, with news and information from more than 1,400 nonprofits and government agencies.


Essential Anatomy 5

  • This app provides study tools that are ideal for individuals earning a physical therapy assistant associate degree online. The app offers a digital database of cross sections, bone mapping, and musculoskeletal systems.


Physical Therapy Web

  • This website delivers resources for physical therapy students and professionals, including articles, journals, and a career board.


The Federal of State Boards of Physical Therapy

  • Established in the 1980s, FSBPT promotes safe practices in the field of physical therapy. FSBPT administers the National Physical Therapy Examination and offers free online resources, including a forum and information about the exam.


Private Practice Section

  • Incorporated in 1956, PPS offers a community for physical therapists who run private practices. The organization is composed of more than 4,032 physical therapists and offers access to volunteer opportunities, networking events, and online webinars.


Therapeutic Resources

  • Founded by occupational therapy consultants Marilyn Rosee and Lisa Davis in 1985, Therapeutic Resources offers access to jobs and seminars. The organization helps physical therapists and physical therapist assistants build skills and find available positions.