Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical Therapist Assistant

State-of-the-Art Training to Make Standout PT Professionals

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) help physical therapists provide important services to people with disabilities and those recovering from injuries. 

The PTA carries out the plan of care created by the physical therapist (PT), monitors the patient’s progress, and documents the care the patient receives.

As a PTA, you'll provide treatments in strengthening, flexibility, aerobic conditioning, exercise, balance activities, functional training, gait training, modalities and other therapeutic interventions, as well as patient and caregiver education.

This program begins each year in the fall. It has mandatory background checks and other compliance items that need to be completed for clinic participation.

Apply Now Program Details Program Costs

Kirkwood offers more than $3 million in scholarships for students each year.

Students in this program may be eligible to have half their tuition paid for by the Kibbie Grant.

Graduates of the Physical Therapy Assistant program will be able to:

  • Demonstrate ethics, values, and responsibilities appropriate to the PTA 
  • Provide for patient/client management using appropriate framework
  • Demonstrate ability to interpret a plan of care, monitor patient response, and respond appropriately
  • Provide physical therapy interventions identified in the plan of care developed by the PT
  • Perform physical therapy tests and measures
  • Participate in the health care environment
  • Participate in practice management

A one-hour program conference is required prior to acceptance to the program. You'll learn more about the program, specific admissions requirements and have the opportunity to have questions answered by program faculty and staff.

Additional Program Requirements

These steps/requirements are in addition to Kirkwood's steps to become a student. Reading and writing test scores are valid for three years; math for two years:

  • Complete a placement test or submit your ACT scores. These scores determine your placement into math and English classes.
  • Applicants with an associate, bachelors or higher degree do not need to complete placement tests.

If college level placement is not met, students are recommended to meet with an advisor. Kirkwood and Physical Therapist Assistant admissions policies and procedures are subject to change at anytime. After all admissions criteria is met, students are eligible to apply for the technical program.

All requirements listed below are due March 1 of each year to the Allied Health office. All forms are turned in together with the criteria checklist that is given at a program conference. Completing the admission steps does not guarantee admission to the program.

Admission is competitive and is based on the following factors:

The ATI TEAS was developed to measure basic essential skills in the academic content area domains of reading, mathematics, science, and English and language usage. These entry-level skills were deemed important for PTA, Dental Hygiene, and Medical Laboratory Technology program applicants by a panel of program curriculum experts.

The ATI TEAS is a 150-item, four-option, multiple-choice assessment. To prepare in an organized and efficient manner, you should know what to expect from the real assessment.

Students will now need to use the ATI TEAS Study Manual-Sixth Edition.

Content Area Number of Test Items* Amount of Time Allotted
Reading 53 64 minutes
Mathematics 36 54 minutes
Science 53 63 minutes
English & Language Usage 28 28 minutes
Total 150 209 minutes

*There are 20 unscored questions throughout the exam for a total of 170 questions total.

Testing Center ATI TEAS Exam Schedule:

NEW Test Registration Procedure

1) Register for an available exam time with the Kirkwood Test Center.
2) You must create an account on the ATI TEAS website, click on "create account."

We recommend students use their Kirkwood student email when creating an account. Remember your username and password when you come to take your test.
3) On the day of your scheduled test, bring the following: 

  • Photo ID
  • Facemask (required during testing)
  • ATI TEAS account username and password
  • Debit or credit card to pay for the exam. (Beginning in the spring of 2021, payments must be made through the ATI TEAS website ahead of taking the test. 

*The cost of the exam is $65 (as of July 1, 2019)

On your scheduled date and time, you will take your test at the test center located on the second floor of Cedar Hall, check-in at room 2055. Leave all personal belongings at home, you will not be able to take your phone, smart watches, etc. in the room where you test.
Please look at the following link for some useful information on how to prepare for the exam: ATI TEAS Tips for Success.

A minimum of 30 days is recommended between ATI TEAS exam attempts. It is recommended that students remediate in the areas identified by the Individual Profile Sub-Scales scores before retaking this exam.

Questions or concerns? Contact the Test Center at or 319-398-5456.


Three cumulative attempts are allowed to pass the ATI TEAS exam with the minimum score required by the appropriate program.

  • If a student fails the exam for a program three times, they are not allowed to change their program to take the exam three more times for a different program. It is three cumulative attempts.

  • Acceptable scores vary between programs. Therefore, an unacceptable score for one program may be considered acceptable for another.

After the second failed attempt, students will be strongly encouraged to set up a meeting with the appropriate program director to discuss strategies for success on the third attempt.
After the third failed attempt, students are no longer eligible to be admitted into any program that requires the exam. You cannot change programs to start the testing process over.
Students must wait three years if they want to try again if the third test failed to meet the minimum score.

Students must complete prerequisite courses and earn a C or better. Prerequisite courses include:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology I
  • Introduction to PTA
  • Speech Course

Submit evidence of 24 hours of total observation to include a minumum of 4 hours at each of 3 different physical therapy sessions and submit answers to a questionnaire related to the observations. Clinicians will fill out a feedback form, which is marked as acceptable or unacceptable behavior. Feedback evaluation must be submitted in a sealed envelope and tuned in with all your completed admission paperwork by the March 1 deadline to the Allied Health Department, 2164 Linn Hall.

Take an envelope with you for them to place their form in once it is completed. After they place it in the envelope they will sign over the seal.

If the student has two-thirds of this come back marked unacceptable, then the student must meet with the program director, who will advise about professionalism and communication requirements within the profession.

Where you decide to do your Physical Therapist observation is up to you.

Use the following e-mail address for contacting Mercy Hospital:

For observation hours at St. Luke's Hospital, please use the following process:

  • Go to the bottom of the St. Luke's website and select Careers and Volunteers.
  • Select Job Shadow Program and read information on that page.
  • Fill out the 1-page application.
  • In the links on the left-hand side of the page, under Job Shadow Program, select Available Job Shadows and Contacts for the name and email address of the person in charge of job shadows for your discipline.

The contact for physical therapy is Samantha Killburg. Send your application for job shadow to her email at

Submit two letters of recommendation using the required recommendation form. One of these recommendations must be from an academic reference (if unavailable, a professional reference may be used).

Letters must be submitted in a sealed envelope and turned in with all your completed admission paperwork by the March 1 deadline to the Allied Health department, 2164 Linn Hall.

Take an envelope with you for them to place their form in once it is completed. After they place it in the envelope they will sign over the seal.

In addition to the required prerequisite courses, it is recommended that students take the following courses prior to admission into the program. If courses are not taken prior to admission they will be taken in semesters listed on the plan of study.

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology II
  • Intro to Psychology
  • Composition I
  • Professionals in Health
  • Humanities Elective
Learn more about being a PTA and the technical standards that come with it.

The primary location for Physical Therapist Assistant students is the Linn County Regional Center in Hiawatha. Your clinical experience takes place at sites across Iowa and in neighboring states.

Kirkwood’s program takes place in a spacious lab with state-of-the-art equipment that’s used in current physical therapy practice. You’ll learn from faculty who have extensive real-world experience as physical therapists and educators.

Two short-term and two long-term clinical experiences will give you hands-on experience with a variety of patients.

The Physical Therapist Assistant program at Kirkwood Community College is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Individuals needing to contact the program/institution directly, please call 319-398-5566.

PTA graduates qualify to take the licensure exam given by the Federation of State Boards in Physical Therapy. Licensure is granted by the Iowa Board of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Examiners.

Most states, including Iowa, require a license to practice as a PTA. Annual continuing education hours are required to maintain a license.

The mission of the Kirkwood Community College Physical Therapist Assistant Program is to develop practitioners who are able to provide quality patient care under the supervision of a physical therapist and are able to continue learning to seek knowledge and skills reflective of contemporary practice. 

Frequently Asked Questions

A PTA typically spends between six to seven hours each day in direct patient care and documenting that care. PTAs may also be involved in non-patient care activities such as making/receiving phone calls, assist with filing, equipment care, and keeping the department clean and orderly.

In the process of providing care, PTAs must use strategic communication to encourage, motivate, and provide feedback related to the patient performance. PTAs must problem solve to determine the most efficient and effective way to carry out the plan of care developed by the therapist.

The specialty areas include neuro-rehab, orthopedics, general medical, cardiopulmonary, and pediatrics. PTA students must learn and demonstrate competence in treatment of patients from all specialty areas, examples of patient diagnoses within each specialty area are:

  • Neuro-rehab: stroke, head injury, spinal cord injury
  • Orthopedics: sprains, strains, fractures, joint replacement, amputations
  • General Medical: diabetes, vascular disease, burns, wounds
  • Cardiopulmonary: heart attack, heart surgery, emphysema, asthma
  • Pediatrics: cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida
  • Geriatics: pneumonia, hip fractures, post-surgical

Yes, the job requires strength and endurance. The PTA may be required to assist patients who are very weak and unable to support their own weight. PTAs must be able to provide physical assistance or resistance as needed by the patient.

You will see patients of all ages and abilities, cultures and socioeconomic status. The PTA must be comfortable communicating with and motivating a variety of people.

The PTA provides a variety of therapy procedures such as:

Pain control modalities: hot packs, cold packs, traction, ice massage, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, etc.

Therapeutic exercise: stretching, strengthening, balance, coordinator, endurance, etc.

Functional activities: assist patients to learn or re-learn how to roll, sit up, transfer from bed to wheelchair, walk

Other: procedures to control/manage swelling and facilitate wound healing

The PT is responsible for performing the initial evaluation of the patient, setting up the plan of care and subsequent decision-making for each patient. When the plan of care is developed, the PT can delegate part or all of the treatment to the PTA.

The PT is educated at the bachelors, masters, or doctoral level; the PTA usually has an associate degree.

You need to take the Physical Therapist Assistant Licensure Exam and achieve a passing score to practice in Iowa.

If you move to another state, you need to apply for a license to practice in that state. Typically, you have to attend an oral interview or take a written test to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about the laws that are necessary to practice in that state.

To apply to a PT program, you need to complete a bachelor's degree, which takes an additional three to four years following the completion of the PTA program. You then have to apply to the masters or doctorate-level PT program, which is typically two years in length.

To transfer to an athletic training program, you need to contact the institution that offers the program to obtain their transfer requirements. The number of credit hours that transfer varies from school to school.

The program admits 24 students each fall.

It is advised that you take the general education courses in our curriculum. These courses are indicated with an asterisk on the plan of study. We also recommend that you obtain volunteer or employment experience in a physical therapy department. 

After you have applied to the program, you should request that your transcripts be sent to Kirkwood Enrollment Services. Your transcripts will be evaluated and you will receive a letter informing you what courses transfer.

The PTA program courses are sequenced, and it will still require 5 semesters to complete the program, although your credit load will be decreased each semester.



Allied Health
2164 Linn Hall