The purpose of this investigation was to develop a baccalaureate-level educational program that would provide licensed physical therapist assistants (PTAs) with an avenue for expanding their depth of knowledge, critical thinking abilities, communication skills, and hands-on clinical skill sets beyond their previous training. Such a program could provide two possible paths for the program graduates. The bachelor degree in PTA can be an end in itself, allowing the PTA to gain additional depth of knowledge and skills that will help them in their role as a PTA in any setting, as well as management and leadership opportunities. The second path is to the Doctorate in Physical Therapy Degree. Embedding common prerequisite courses required for entry into a DPT curriculum will allow for a more direct pathway to this goal.
Methods and/or Description of Project
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has facilitated discussions and debate whether the possibility of a baccalaureate-level PTA education is warranted. In 2014, the APTA created a task force to study the feasibility of transitioning from an associate to a baccalaureate degree. They noted a significant gap between the training received in traditional associates degree programs and the increased demands placed on practicing PTAs as more advanced training was identified in order for them to remain competitive with other healthcare professionals such as athletic trainers and exercise physiologists.
The Bachelor of Science Physical Therapist Assistant (BSPTA) program was proposed at the College's PTA Program Advisory Board meeting on May 1, 2014. The response from all stakeholders was positive as advisory board members indicated the need for bachelor-trained PTAs at the local and national level. Further, the expected benefits for graduates of the program include: 1) improved confidence resulting from expanded knowledge and skill set 2) enhanced job satisfaction through professional achievement 3) increased competitiveness in the job market, and 4) the potential for career advancement. To determine whether these interests were indeed apparent, over 150 College PTA graduates were surveyed to determine if the board members’ response was indicative of the larger population of clinicians in the field. Of the 61 responses received, 78.69% indicated that a Bachelor of Science degree would be beneficial.
The PTA department at the College then proceeded to developed a Bachelor of Science PTA program (BSPTA). Initially, numerous potential content areas emerged that could be grouped into common themes and organized into course descriptions. The APTA’s “Course Prerequisites Summary” document was also consulted to clarify what courses would provide the necessary prerequisites for those PTAs who might want to use the BSPTA to apply for entrance into a DPT program. Faculty consensus was sought regarding courses that should be included in the program and an outline was created with appropriate sequencing for logical progression.
Program implementation began once approval was obtained from the College’s accreditation body. Resources including faculty, institutional support, admissions, and fiscal requirements were identified and allocated to the new program. A marketing plan was derived and a target of 8 - 12 students were projected. Information was placed on the College website informing stakeholders of the new degree offering. Electronic and paper brochures were sent to all PTA graduates from the College. The College also worked with neighboring state Chapters of the APTA to obtain permissions to use their databases and informative emails were sent out to the licensees provided by the state chapters.
A cohort of 5 students began in August of 2015 and another cohort of 4 students began in January of 2016. These two cohorts were later joined to attain a more desirable sized cohort. Along with the program handbook, students were provided with a detailed orientation that included information regarding College resources, Canvas (the LMS platform), instructor information, the format of the BSPTA program and other pertinent information.
Assessment of the Program
The following assessments were implemented: Student and faculty course evaluations, Student Program Evaluations/Exit Survey, Faculty yearly survey on curriculum and program expected outcomes, Employer surveys 6 months and 18 months post graduation, Graduate surveys 6 months and 18 months post graduation, and Advisory Board feedback.
The BSPTA degree program in general consists of 17 additional credit hours of General Education courses and 40 credit hours of core PTA coursework beyond a student’s Associate PTA degree (32 credits of general education courses and 32 credits of physical therapy core courses) for a total of 121 credits. The program is designed to be completed in a hybrid format consisting of online (5 semesters) and a one-week on-site clinical skills lab at the end of the program. Each course builds upon the student’s Associate’s degree knowledge and skills with assignments specifically designed to facilitate the integration of didactic content with opportunities/experiences at their current employment.
Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education
There has been much discussion of the entry-level degree for the PTA. While the results of these discussions have been that PTA education should remain at the Associate's level, this should not preclude programs from developing Bachelor degree programs to serve the needs of their communities and the needs of practicing PTAs. There is an increasing interest in the academic community to develop baccalaureate-level PTA programs. The BSPTA program at the College provides an example of an alternative educational model for the PTA. This degree allows the PTA to further their skills and knowledge, to advance their career within the PTA scope of practice, and to further their career to the DPT level if desired by providing an educational pathway toward this goal.
This program provides two possible paths for the program graduate. This degree can be an end in itself, allowing the PTA to gain additional depth of knowledge and skills that will help them in their role as a PTA in any practice setting, as well as management and leadership opportunities. The second path is to the Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree. Due to the heavy emphasis on science coursework in the program, the majority of prerequisite requirements are met for students that wish to continue on to a DPT program.
The online format is well received by working adult learners as students are able to complete assignments and read lectures asynchronous which allows for a flexible school schedule. Additionally, the emphasis on evidence-based practice and current research that is embedded in each content area of learning.
Program attrition is a concern for any program. The rigor of the coursework in addition to full-time employment, several students were unable to manage their work and family commitments along with the program coursework.
Another challenge is program low enrollment. There are several possible reasons for lower than projected enrollment including: 1) decreased awareness for this specific degree; 2) poor clarity on the benefits of a BSPTA degree; and 3) uncertainty of the online format. However, we anticipate the interest and enrollment in the program will improve to sustainable levels due to: 1) the expanding interest amongst our colleagues in baccalaureate-level PTA education; 2) more PTAs and PTs being aware of our BSPTA degree offering; and 3) the success of our graduating alumni.
What additional research is needed?
Continued research in the following areas to best understand advanced PTA education include:
1. What are the essential skills and knowledge needed for a bachelor level PTA to reach goals of advanced proficiency, DPT success, career advancement, leadership goals, and clinical specialty in a practice area?
2. Does a consensus exist as to the common core of skills a PTA should learn?
3. Do patient outcomes improve with a BSPTA clinician versus an ASPTA clinician?
4. What is the financial viability of a BSPTA program?
5. Should there be any entrance requirements for a BSPTA program besides having a PTA license?
6. What are the best formats in which to offer a BSPTA program?
1. American Physical Therapy Association (2014). RC 20 – 12 Feasibility Study for Transitioning to an Entry-Level Baccalaureate Physical Therapist Assistant Degree. Supplemental report to the 2014 House of Delegates. 2014 Alexandria, VA: Author.
2. Robinson, A., DePalma, M., McCall, M., “Physical Therapist Assistants’ Perceptions of the Documented Roles of the Physical Therapist Assistant” Physical Therapy, 1995. 75: 1054 – 1064.
3. Druse T. Educator, Supervisor, And Graduate Recommendations Of A Bachelor Degree For Physical Therapist Assistants [e-book]. Northcentral University; 2012. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 1, 2014.
4. Smith A, Crosier J. PTAs Today. Patient Care Delivery in Physical Therapy. PT In Motion [serial online]. June 2013;5(5):54-56. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 1, 2014.
5. APTA. 2014 – 15 Course Prerequisites Summary. June 24, 2014. APTA; academic services at APTA.org.
6. CAPTE 2012 – 2013 Physical Therapist Assistant Education Programs. June 2013. CAPTE; firstname.lastname@example.org
7. APTA. Colleges/Universities that Accept PTA Program Credits for Junior Year Entry into a Bachelor Degree.
8. APTA PT/PTA Teamwork Models in Delivering Patient Care. Released in 2014. APTA
1. Review the relevant literature discussing the expanding roles, responsibilities, and educational requirements of PTAs.
2. Examine, in depth, a bachelor level PTA degree program as one example of educational advancement opportunities for PTAs.
3. Explore the current outcomes and goals of a Bachelor level PTA degree program.
4. Discuss future implications and limitations for this Bachelor level PTA degree.
Powerpoint lecture format, group discussion, question and answers session.
30 min - Literature Review and Background Information
30 min - Design and Implementation of the Bachelor PTA Degree
30 min - Current Outcomes, Lessons Learned, Future Direction
10 min - Summary
20 min - Q & A