Physical therapist assistants fulfill an important role in preventive and rehabilitative patient care

PTAs work with licensed physical therapists to provide treatment for physical injury or disability. Treatments include application of heat, cold, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and massage, as well as training in therapeutic exercise and functional activities.

The PTA program prepares students to work in a variety of settings including:

 Extended care facilities
 Private practice
 Health clubs
 Rehabilitation facilities
 Home health care agencies    
 Retirement communities
 Hospitals  Schools and other pediatric facilities
 Outpatient clinics
 Sports medicine clinics

Graduates of Whatcom's PTA program can expect to be hired within one to three months after licensure. Full-time employment is often more quickly found outside of Whatcom County.

Physical therapist assistant
 Average starting wage
 Employment growth rate
 (long-term, estimated)

 Northwest Washington*
 $17.59  2.2% annually (2012-2022)
 Washington State*
 $14.53  2.7% annually (2012-2022)
 National**  $15.31  41% (2012-2022)

Sources: *Employment Security Department, Washington State; **Bureau of Labor Statistics

Licensure

Licensure is required in Washington State to practice as a PTA. Graduates of Whatcom’s PTA program earn an Associate of Science degree in Physical Therapist Assistant (AS-PTA) and are then eligible to take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for physical therapist assistants, which is one requirement for licensure in Washington State. The licensure exam is managed and administered by The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. For the latest information on testing dates, preparation material and comparing testing and licensing pass rates between schools, click here.

Other requirements for licensure include:

  • Graduation from a nationally accredited, board-approved school, such as Whatcom Community College
  • A completed licensure application which includes personal data questions
  • Proof of at least seven (7) hours of HIV/AIDS training
  • Completion of the online jurisprudence examination

These requirements are submitted to the Department of Health, Board of Physical Therapy for consideration of licensure.

Click here for information from the Washington State Department of Health on licensing requirements, process, costs and interim permits.

Education and licensing requirements vary between states. Click here for a list of each state's licensing authority and information on licensing requirements and processes.

Career advancement

There are career opportunities for advancement and pursuit of specialty interest in the following and other areas:

 administration
 education 
 neurology 
 pediatrics
 cardiology
 gynecology  
 obstetrics  rehabilitation
 community health 
 industry
 orthopedics  
 sports research  

Further information on employment can be obtained from the Career Center at Whatcom Community College or by contacting the Physical Therapy Association of Washington, Inc. or the American Physical Therapy Association.

Transferability

While your Associate in Science - PTA is not a transfer degree, it does offer some transfer options. Washington state, like some other states, requires a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree (DPT) to practice as a licensed physical therapist.

Prior to applying to a DPT program, students usually will complete a bachelor degree for pre-DPT, including classes specifically to prepare for the DPT program. One example is the Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology - Pre Physical Therapy program at Western Washington University.

A graduate of Whatcom's PTA program may have as many as 45 credits apply toward a transfer degree. Many students choose the benefit of earning an Associate in Arts and Sciences transfer degree, which requires 90 college-level credits.

Applicants often ask about options for transitioning, or ‘bridging’ from being a PTA to a licensed physical therapist. There are some education options for this bridge, but they are limited. Click here to view the latest information from the American Physical Therapy Association on PTA-to-PT bridge programs.

Consult with your advisor to consider your unique situation, your academic history, and planning for your professional advancement.