Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions concerning the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program are listed below.

What is a Physical Therapist Assistant?

A Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) is a skilled technical health care provider who works under the supervision of a physical therapist. The PTA works with a variety of patients who have been disabled by illness, accident or congenital handicap. The duties of a PTA include assisting the physical therapist in implementing treatment programs that may involve exercise, massage and hydrotherapy; the use of heat, cold, electrical stimulation, or sound; and reporting to the physical therapist on the patient's responses.

What are the personal qualifications of a PTA?

A person interested in becoming a PTA should have a sincere interest in helping people who have physical disabilities. Above average intelligence, a pleasant personality, tact, emotional stability, patience, and an ability to get along with all types of people are important. Good health and physical stamina are essential. For additional information review the Technical Standards for Students in Physical Therapist Assistant Program.

What are career opportunities as a PTA?

Career opportunities for PTAs may include clinical practice, education, and possibly management. As clinicians, PTAs work in hospitals, nursing homes, schools for disabled children, rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, sports medicine centers, and for physical therapists in independent practice. Some PTAs interested in education have positions as lab assistants in PTA education programs. PTA educators may pursue advanced degrees so that they can become full-time faculty members who design and teach courses in PTA schools. Other PTAs become clinical instructors, supervising PTA students in clinical settings. Although opportunities for management positions are limited for PTAs, some facilities allow PTAs with experience to advance to supervisory positions, supervising new PTA staff and technical staff, and participating in in-service education.

PTA salaries vary depending upon one's experience, geographical location and the position. A recent graduate can expect to earn from $40,000 to $45,000+ in the Memphis area. Experienced PTAs may earn much higher salaries.

What is included in the Southwest PTA curriculum?

The PTA program at Southwest is a one-year professional program which is preceded by one year of prerequisite course work. Currently enrollment in the program is limited to 20 students per year making admission to the program quite competitive. One class is admitted per year and accepted students matriculate in the first summer term.

The one year program includes classes in kinesiology (the study of human movement), emergency medical care (which includes CPR certification), pathophysiology (the study of different diseases and disorders of the human body), and several PTA procedures classes in which students learn physical therapy skills such as:

  • Transfer training
  • Gait training
  • Application of thermal agents
  • Electrical stimulation
  • A wide variety of exercise programs and techniques

Students receive extensive clinical experience with patients throughout the curriculum, working with experienced physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in a variety of clinical settings in the Memphis area. During these clinical rotations, students apply the knowledge and practice the skills they have learned in the classroom.

Upon graduation from Southwest, students receive the Physical Therapist Assistant, Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree and are eligible to sit for the state licensure examination.

What are the admission requirements for the PTA Program?

Please see our Admission Requirements (Academic Catalog)

I know that the PTA program is very competitive in its admissions. What can I do to increase my chances of being accepted into the program?

The PTA admissions information notes that a "C" or better is required for all prerequisite courses. The reality is that most students that are accepted into the program have much higher grades. To give yourself the best possible chance of being accepted into the program, you should do as well as possible academically.

Is the PTA program part-time or nighttime?

The prerequisite courses may be taken at other campuses, online or at night. Once a student is accepted into the program, all classes are held during the day.

The PTA Program is a full-time day program. Classes are held on the Union Avenue Campus in the Allied Health [H] Building. Students can expect to be in class Monday through Friday. Clinical education hours are 40 hours per week.

May I apply to the program while I am taking the last of my prerequisites?

Yes, if all of the prerequisites will be completed by the end of the semester in which you are applying.

I completed some prerequisite courses years ago. Will they still apply?

Both Principles of Anatomy and Physiology I (BIOL 2010) and Principles of Anatomy and Physiology II (BIOL 2020) must have been completed within the previous five (5) years. The other prerequisite courses do not have an age limit.

Where do I do my physical therapy observation hours required for application to the program?

You may contact any facility that has an employed licensed physical therapist or licensed physical therapist assistant and ask to observe.

How many observation hours do I need?

You will need a minimum of eight (8) hours observation time in two (2) different types of physical therapy settings (at least 16 total hours). You need to vary your experiences as much as possible.

Will I be able to work once I have been accepted into the PTA program?

Because of the fast pace and intensity of the one year program, it is highly suggested that you do not attempt to work. Classes generally are held Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 3:30 or 4 p.m. During the Clinical Education courses in the fall, spring, and summer, you will be in the clinic 40 hours per week.

What are Southwest's graduation requirements?

Degree Requirements for Graduation (Academic Catalog)

What are the costs involved in attending the program?

Expenses incurred by a student who attend Southwest's PTA Program may include Fees and Charges (Academic Catalog)

Are PTAs licensed?

Before graduates can practice legally as physical therapist assistants in Tennessee, they must become licensed. To qualify for licensure, candidates must:

  • be graduates of accredited physical therapist assistant programs
  • apply for licensure with the Board of Physical Therapy
  • pass the licensure examination administered by Board

A criminal background check is required. The Southwest PTA education program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) (opens new window).

How do I obtain additional information about the PTA profession?

More information may be obtained from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website.

If you have any questions about the program at Southwest, please contact:
Jennifer Stevens, PTA, BS, PTA Program Coordinator, 901-333-5395 / Faith Kiphut, PT, DPT CEEAA, PTA Program Director of Clinical Education, 901-333-5794

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