If you’ve decided to go to physical therapy assistant school, you might be excited, you might be nervous, or you might be some combination of both. Many people get nervous because they’re not sure what to expect. If you’re returning to school for a different degree after already taking postsecondary classes, you might have some idea of what’s coming your way. If you’ve never set foot on a college campus though, you might be feeling like you have no idea what’s going to happen. Will the classes be hard? What will the professors be like? What types of classes will I take? These and other questions might be running through your head. Some of those questions might not be answered until you actually set foot inside a classroom, but others you can answer yourself by doing a little research. For example, some schools post the exact course schedule online so you can see exactly what you will take semester by semester. To give you an idea, here are a few different types of classes you will take.
General Education Courses
Every associate’s degree program requires students to take classes related to their general education. This means that they don’t explicitly have anything to do with becoming a physical therapy assistant, although you’re likely to find many of the skills you learn quite useful. You might take classes like math, physics, anatomy and physiology, communications, English, and law and ethics. You might also be required to take a basic college intro or study skills course. It might be tempting to dismiss a course like this as unnecessary and therefore not worth your attention, but if you show up to class and listen to your teacher you learn something! Likewise with all the “Gen. Ed.” courses. Even though you already know that your ultimate career goal is becoming a physical therapy assistant, paying attention in math will help you crunch the numbers when calculating a patient’s bill, and paying attention in communications can help you learn how to write better emails and letters and speak more professionally when on the phone at work.
Once you finish the basic requirements for your degree, you can get into what you’re really there for – learning how to be a PT assistant! These classes could include the fundamentals of being a PT assistant, rehabilitation, growth and development, kinesiology, therapeutic exercise, and a clinical practicum. You might also have the opportunity to get CPR and first aid certified – an especially helpful factor if you are interested in working with the elderly in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Through taking these classes you might find that you are especially interested in a specific subset of physical therapy, and discover that you are especially looking forward to working with people with neurological disorders, trauma victims, or acute injuries.
Internship or Externship
Depending on the program into which you enter, you may be given the chance to participate in an internship or externship. These often count for credit and are considered a type of “capstone” at the end of your regular courses. The exact duration and schedule of your internship will vary by institution. For example, you might stay with one company or hospital for six weeks, or you might do a two week clinical rotation followed up by one or multiple internships of four to seven weeks. How long you are with the company or hospital might also be affected by what the specific organization needs from their interns. Internships are great opportunities to get real world experience in your chosen field and learn more about where you ultimately want to work. They are especially beneficial because you can’t easily simulate in a classroom or online what it is like to actually work one-on-one with patients.