The field of physical therapy is so promising in South Carolina that PTAs made the top 20 list of fastest-growing occupations between 2012 and 2022 published by the state’s Department of Employment and Workforce.
The Department expects a job growth rate of 32.4% during this ten-year period, opening up an average of 64 jobs a year for licensed physical therapist assistants in the state. Demand may be even higher than these predictions, since the Department reported that 149 job postings for physical therapist assistants were listed as of November 2015.
Physical therapist assistants in South Carolina find employment in the state’s 90 hospitals with inpatient rehabilitation centers, as well as sports medicine clinics, nursing homes, home health agencies, and physical therapy outpatient clinics. Among notable employers in the state is Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, which is nationally ranked according to US News and World Report and offers top-notch rehab therapy to its patients.
PT services in South Carolina have been in such high demand that CORA Health Services—a nationwide chain of outpatient rehabilitation clinics—has expanded by acquiring First Physical Therapy LLC. CORA Health Services expects to acquire and open new clinics in South Carolina to serve the increasing demand for PT services in the state.
Steps to Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant in South Carolina
Launching your physical therapist assistant career in South Carolina starts by qualifying for a license through the South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners.
Follow the step-by-step instructions in this simple guide to learn how to become a physical therapist assistant in South Carolina:
Step 1. Earn a Physical Therapist Assistant Associate’s Degree
Your first step to becoming a licensed PTA in South Carolina is to enroll in a school that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and approved by the South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners.
CAPTE-accredited associate’s degrees in South Carolina are structured as:
- Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (AAS)
- Associate of Health Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (AHS)
You will find CAPTE-accredited schools with campus locations in cities throughout South Carolina:
- Myrtle Beach
You will start your education taking prerequisite courses and will have to apply to the PTA component of the program once you have completed them. You will need to have first aid and CPR training and undergo a drug screen and background check before enrolling since the clinical internship component of the program puts you in direct contact with patients. As a condition of enrollment, one school requires that you complete 20 hours of observation in a clinical PT practice, while another school prefers that you log 40 hours of observation.
Your program will combine academic coursework, laboratory work and clinical internships. While the course titles may vary between schools, typical courses include:
- Introduction to PT Intervention
- Introduction to Kinesiology
- Pathology for Physical therapist assistants
- Physical Agents & Modalities
- Physical Therapy Professional Preparation
- Patient Assessment Technique
- Therapeutic Exercise
- Orthopedic Management
- Neuromuscular Rehabilitation
The length of your clinical training will vary slightly depending on your school, but will typically involve about 560 contact hours. Your clinical practice will take place in varied settings that could include hospitals, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation agencies, private offices, and schools. These are just a few of the many locations in South Carolina where your clinical training may take place:
- Columbia Rehabilitation Clinic – Columbia
- Roper St. Francis Rehabilitation Hospital – Charleston
- Pelham Medical Center Physical Therapy – Spartanburg
- Tidelands Waccamaw Rehabilitation Hospital – Tidelands
- Peace Rehabilitation Center – Greenville
- Trident Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation – Charleston
Step 2. Submit an Application for PTA Licensure in South Carolina by Examination
Now that you have your CAPTE-approved physical therapist assistant associate’s degree, you can initiate the state licensing process through the South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners (SCBPTE). The state of South Carolina requires that you be proficient in English to get your license. If you are not a native English speaker, you will have to demonstrate your proficiency in the language.
You must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for physical therapist assistants offered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) before the SCBPTE will grant you a license.
You must get approval from the SCBPTE before you can take the NPTE-PTA. The Board will review your application and make sure that you are qualified to take the exam. You must pay the $400 fee online to the FSBPT before you submit your application for licensure in South Carolina.
Your next step is to submit a complete application packet to the SCBPTE. You have the option of applying online or downloading an Application for Licensure and mailing it in.
You will have to get your signature notarized and attach a passport photo to your application. If you are applying online, you can attach these pages to your application under the “Uploads” section. Otherwise, you will mail them with your form to this address:
SC Board of Physical Therapy Examiners
P.O. Box 11329
Columbia, SC 29211
You must also pay a licensing fee of $120 with a check made out to SCBPTE.
You will also need to have your school send your official transcripts to the Board. If you do not yet have them, you can have your school send a Verification of Completion of Graduation Requirements form C-20. It is imperative that the transcripts or the form come from your school, since the SCBPTE will not accept this information directly from you.
Step 3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for PTAs
When the South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners has received your completed application file and has granted approval, they will notify the FSBPT that you can take the NPTE-PTA. The FSBPT will send you an authorization to test letter, which will let you schedule your test date with the third-party testing company Prometric. You will pay a nominal proctoring fee at this stage and have an option of a number of testing sites throughout South Carolina.
Since the NPTE-PTA is a 200-question exam that will take four hours, you should prepare in advance. The FSBPT provides both a candidate handbook and an online practice exam. The exam will include these topics:
- Diseases/Conditions that Impact Effective Treatment (28%)
- Physical Therapy Data Collection (20.7%)
- Safety & Protection; Professional Responsibilities; Research (6%)
- Interventions (30.7%)
- Equipment & Devices; Therapeutic Modalities (14.7%)
You need to obtain a score of at least 600 to pass the NPTE-PTA.
Step 4. Get your Career Started as a Physical Therapist Assistant in South Carolina
Once you have passed the NPTE-PTA, the South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners will issue your license and mail you a wallet sized license and a wall certificate.
You can now start your career as a licensed physical therapist assistant in South Carolina. The state offers a variety of options in its many hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, and a large number of outpatient clinics that specialize in orthopedics, sports medicine, and physical therapy. Thus, you have a substantial number of choices when it comes to looking for a PTA job in South Carolina.
A survey of job vacancy announcements for licensed physical therapist assistants throughout South Carolina conducted in November 2015 identified the following facilities that were looking to hire (While PTAs are in high demand, this list is for illustrative purposes only and is not meant to imply a guarantee of employment):
- Spartanburg Medical Center – Spartanburg
- Centra Healthcare Solutions – Aiken
- Spartanburg Hospital for Restorative Care – Spartanburg
- Life Care Centers – Charleston
- KershawHealth – Camden
- Department of Veteran Affairs – Beaufort
- Greenville Health System – Greenville
- NE Physical Therapy – Columbia
- Advanced Therapy Solutions, Kids! – Greenville
- Sisters of Charity Health System – Columbia
- Georgialina Physical Therapy- North Augusta
You also have the option of working in the independent private practice of a licensed physical therapist.
Step 5. Renew your Physical Therapist Assistant License Every Two Years
You will have to renew your physical therapist assistant license on or before December 31 of every even-numbered year. The Board will mail your renewal application form to you in early November when it is time for you to renew.
You must pay a fee of $80 to renew your PTA license. If you do not renew it by December 31, you will no longer have a license to practice in South Carolina. You can renew by January 31 by paying a renewal fee of $150.
You are exempt from a continuing education credit requirement during your first renewal. However, you will have to demonstrate that you took part in 3 continuing education units (30 hours) in the two-year period leading up to your second renewal. Each credit hour of an academic semester course counts as 15 contact hours, while that of an academic quarter counts as 10.
If you achieve or renew any Clinical Specialist Certification through the American Physical Therapy Association, that will count as meeting your entire continuing education requirement. The following courses are automatically approved to meet your continuing education requirement:
- American Physical Therapy Association sponsored courses
- South Carolina American Physical Therapy Association sponsored courses
- College coursework that is germane to physical therapy
- American Medical Association courses that involve physical therapy
- In-service hours (0.4 CEU maximum)
- CPR (0.4 CEU maximum)
- FSBPT and APTA physical therapy continued competency tools
- Contact hour credits assigned on a case by case basis
The Board will provide the form for you to document your credits and randomly audits renewal applications, so you should keep the documentation of your courses for at least three years from the beginning date of your licensure period.