Physical Therapist Assistant

What is a typical day for a PTA?
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. PTA s must problem solve to determine the most efficient and effective way to carry out the plan of care developed by the therapist.

What are the specialty areas within the profession?
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 area: 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

Does the job require a lot of physical strength?
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. PTA s must be able to provide physical assistance or resistance as needed by the patient.

What types of patients will I see?
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.

What types of therapy will I provide to patients?
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

What is the difference between a PT and a PTA?
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.

Will I have to take a licensing exam? How do I obtain a license to practice?
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.

After finishing the PTA program, can I transfer to a PT program or an athletic training program?
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.

How many students are admitted and when?
The program admits 24 students each fall.

What should I do if I have to wait?
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. 

What if I have a prior degree such as athletic training, massage therapy, exercise physiology or other? 
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.

Questions? Contact the Allied Health Department at 398-5566 or email