Physical therapist assistants play indispensible roles in helping patients recover from serious injuries and illnesses. They get to merge their passions for health and people by helping individuals regain movement, manage pain, and return to their daily lives.
In 2014, Tennessee was home to 2,340 licensed physical therapist assistants, according to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In that year, Clarksville was home to nearly 100 licensed PTAs, and Knoxville boasted being home to nearly 300 licensed PTAs.
Tennessee is home to some of America’s top nationally ranked hospitals with expert physical therapists, such as the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. With more than 2,000 doctors, this hospital was known to have more than 23,000 admissions in a single year.
In addition, the medical center’s physical therapists are experts, who offer advanced methods of treatment for orthopedic rehabilitation, neurological rehabilitation, amputee rehabilitation, trauma rehabilitation, and more.
With a high number of highly skilled physical therapists, an aging population, and an increase in chronic conditions, physical therapist assistants in Tennessee are expected to continue being in high demand.
In fact, between 2012 and 2022, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development expects the number of jobs for physical therapist assistants to grow by 41 percent, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.
Steps to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant in Tennessee
If you’re ready to embark on your career as a physical therapist assistant, you’ll start by earning a license from the Tennessee Department of Health’s Board of Physical Therapy.
For step-by-step instructions on how to become a licensed physical therapist assistant in Tennessee, follow this guide:
Step 1. Earn an Associate’s Degree from an Accredited School
To become a licensed physical therapist assistant, you must earn a vocational school certificate or two-year associate’s degree at minimum.
The program you choose must have received accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Schools that offer CAPTE-accredited physical therapist assistant programs have campus locations in various cities throughout Tennessee, including:
- Johnson City
- Oak Ridge
These schools generally offer two types of physical therapist assistant degrees:
- Physical Therapist Associate of Science (AS)
- Physical Therapist Associate of Applied Science (AAS)
These degrees are academic and occupational degrees, respectively. For instance, the AS will prepare you to embark on future physical therapist assistant education if you choose to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree, while the AAS will solely prepare you for your career as a physical therapist assistant.
These two-year degree programs consist of courses, labs, and clinical work, including courses such as:
- Introduction to Physical Therapist Assistants
- Physical Therapist Assistant Procedures
- Functional Anatomy
- Musculoskeletal Cond Treatment
- Neuromuscular Cond Treatment
- Med Surgical Cond Treatment
Interspersed throughout your courses, you will complete 14-16 weeks of clinical work in local hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, or sports facilities.
Step 2. Submit the Application for Licensure as a Physical Therapist Assistant
Once you’ve graduated from a school that offers a CAPTE-accredited physical therapist assistant associate’s degree, you’ll be ready to submit your application for a Tennessee license by examination.
This means that your application serves two purposes: once approved, this application will allow you to take the national licensing exam, and will also serve as you license application once you pass that exam.
To submit the full application, follow these steps:
- Fill out the application for licensure as a physical therapist assistant
- Tape a recent 2×2, full-faced photograph to the first page
- Submit an original letter of recommendation
- Request your school to send official transcripts
- Submit criminal background check information
- Complete the attached declaration of citizenship
- Attach $135.00 application and license fee
- Register for the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for PTAs
You can submit all of your application materials to the Board by mailing them to this address:
State of Tennessee
Department of Health
Board of Physical Therapy
665 Mainstream Drive, 2nd Floor
Nashville, TN 37243
Step 3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for PTAs
Once the Board approves your application, you will be approved to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for PTAs, which is administered through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).
The FSBPT will send you an Authorization to Test (ATT) email, which will include instructions on scheduling your exam with the testing vendor, Prometric. You can find Prometric testing centers in Tennessee in cities such as:
This exam is a 200-question, multiple-choice exam, which focuses on questions related to various physical therapy domains, including:
- Physical Therapy Data Collection
- Gastrointestinal System
- Metabolic & Endocrine Systems
- Diseases and Conditions that Impact Effective Treatment
- Genitourinary System
- Equipment and Devices
- Musculoskeletal System
- Therapeutic Modalities
- Safety and Protection
- Neuromuscular & Nervous Systems
When you complete the exam, FSBPT will automatically send your results to the Board. If you have scored a 600 or higher, the Board will then issue your Tennessee physical therapist assistant license.
Step 4. Launch Your Career as a Physical Therapist Assistant in Tennessee
As a licensed physical therapist, you can apply for jobs in some of Tennessee’s top medical and surgical hospitals, home health care service providers, nursing care facilities, and medical centers.
As of August 2015, hospitals, healthcare centers, and medical centers with the highest number of job openings advertised online for physical therapist assistants in Tennessee included:
- AccentCare, Inc. – Clarksville, Franklin, Dickson
- Life Care Centers of America – Hixson, Dayton, Chattanooga, Ooltewah, Tullahoma, Elizabethton, Wartburg, etc.
- Cookeville Regional Medical Center – Cookeville
- Signature Healthcare – Memphis, Elizabethton, Mountain City
- Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare – Memphis
- Heritage Healthcare, Inc. – Madisonville, Waynesboro, Brentwood
- HealthPRO Management Services – Madisonville
- Community Health Systems, Inc. – Lexington, Tullahoma, Lebanon, Cleveland, Selmer
- Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation – Memphis, Germantown
- Kindred Healthcare, Inc . – Chattanooga, McKenzie, Goodlettsville, Milan
Some other top physical therapist assistant employers in Tennessee include:
- Drayer Physical Therapy Institute – Knoxville
- Functional Pathways – Clarksville
- Knoxville Home Health – Knoxville
- Amedisys, Inc. – Clarksville
- University of Tennessee Medical Center – Knoxville
- Results Physiotherapy – Clarksville
- Turkey Creek Medical Center – Knoxville
Step 5. Earn 20 Hours of Continuing Education (CE) Credits to Renew Your License Every Two Years
To continue working as a licensed physical therapist assistant in Tennessee, you will need to renew your license every two years. To renew, you must obtain 20 hours of continuing education (CE) credits during your two-year renewal cycle.
The way your earn your credits must conform to the Board’s requirements, which are:
- Category 1 – 10 hours minimum
- Category 2 – 10 hours maximum
- Ethics – 2 hours (every other renewal period)
- Jurisprudence – 2 hours (every other renewal period)
Various ways to earn category 1 credits include participating in events such as:
- External/internal peer review of practice
- Home study courses
- University credit
- Participation as a presenter in a workshop
- Authorship of a publication
To earn category 2 credits, you can complete any of the following activities:
- Self-instruction from reading professional literature
- Serving as a clinical instructor
- Participating in a study group
- Attending in-service programs
- Serving the Board as a delegate to the APTA House of Delegates
For either category 1 or 2 credits, you can earn them through recognized organizations or accredited physical therapy educational institutions, such as:
- American Physical Therapy Association
- Tennessee Physical Therapy Association
- Arthritis Foundation
- Daymar Institute
- South College
- Chattanooga State Technical Community College
- East Tennessee State University
Because the Board can request proof of your CE credits at random, you should keep documentation of your hours for at least five years.
Once you’ve completed your CE, you can renew your license online.