There has always been a steady demand for therapeutic interventions through Washington’s many outpatient PT clinics specializing in sports medicine, orthopedics and general injury rehab. Lately, however, there has been a growing demand for physical therapy as physicians more often refer patients for post-surgery rehab, neurological disorders and a range of debilitating conditions that limit function and mobility. A growing elderly population in need of more therapeutic and rehabilitative interventions to address injuries common among the elderly has also been a key factor in driving the demand for physical therapy services in Washington.
As the demand for PT services grows in Washington, so too do the opportunities for the state’s licensed physical therapist assistants. In fact, the Washington Employment Security Department estimates that 212 new physical therapist assistant jobs will be created in the period spanning 2013-2018. Further projections show that by 2023, 410 new PTA jobs will be created in Washington State.
Washington’s physical therapist assistants also enjoy great salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PTAs in Washington earned an average salary of $55,820 as of 2014, higher than the national average of $54,330. Additionally, the top 10% of Washington’s physical therapist assistants earned an average of $75,990 in 2014, showing the earning potential that comes with gaining experience and specializing.
Steps to Becoming a Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant in Washington
In order to become a fully licensed physical therapist assistant in Washington, you must meet the requirements set forth by the Washington Department of Health-Physical Therapy Board. Follow these five steps to earn and maintain your Washington State PTA license:
Step 1. Graduate from a CAPTE-Accredited Physical Therapist Assistant Program
The first step on your path to becoming a physical therapist assistant will be attending a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Accredited physical therapist assistant programs are structured as:
- Associate of Science in Physical Therapist Assistant
- Associate in Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant
In Washington, you may find CAPTE-accredited schools with campus locations in the following cities:
You may find the complete list of CAPTE-accredited PTA programs in Washington on the CAPTE website.
Physical therapist assistant programs give students a comprehensive education by providing laboratory training, classroom based instruction and clinical internships. Your coursework may cover topics including, but not limited to:
- Medical Terminology
- Behavioral sciences
- Fitness and personal training
- Clinical pathology
- Therapeutic exercise
- Professional ethics
- Rehabilitative agents
- Anatomy and physiology
The clinical component of your program is designed to give you real-world exposure to actual patients and the opportunity to gain hands-on experience before you begin your career as a licensed physical therapist assistant. Your clinical work will likely consist of 14-16 weeks of full-time work under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist and clinical instructors at a local hospital inpatient rehabilitation center, assisted living facility, or outpatient clinic. You may find a list a of Washington physical therapist assistant employers in Step 4 of this article, which also serve as hosts for your clinical internship.
Step 2. Complete the Jurisprudence Exam and Submit an Application for Licensure by Examination
Once you have completed your physical therapist assistant program, you may take the Washington Physical Therapist Assistant Jurisprudence Exam through the Washington Department of Health-Physical Therapy Board. The 16-question exam will test your knowledge of Washington State Physical Therapy Practice Laws (RCW 18.74 and WAC 246-915). Once you pass and complete the exam, you must print your passing certificate.
All licensed physical therapist assistants in Washington must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for PTAs, administered through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). The Washington Department of Health-Physical Therapy Board will determine your eligibility to take the exam based on a review of your application.
To begin the application process, print and complete the license application form found on the Washington Department of Health-Physical Therapy Board website. You must submit the following along with your completed application form:
- A $100 application fee
- Your jurisprudence examination passing certificate
- A letter from your program director verifying your graduation
- Your official college transcripts*
*Candidates may apply for examination before graduation. However, the Department must receive your transcripts before you will be licensed.
Send your completed application and accompanying documentation to the following address:
Department of Health
PO Box 1099
Olympia WA 98507-1099
You should then register for the NPTE-PTA through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy as the Washington Department of Health-Physical Therapy Board reviews your application to determine your eligibility to take the exam.
Step 3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for PTAs
After receiving approval from the Department, you must schedule a testing date for the NPTE through the third party exam proctor, Prometric, and select from testing centers in Washington. To take the exam, you will have to pay a $400 fee to the FSBPT and a $70 proctoring fee to Prometric.
You will have four hours to complete the NPTE-PTA, which consists of 200 questions. Topics on the exam will include:
- Safety and Protection
- Professional Responsibilities
- Equipment and Devices
- PT Data Collection
- Therapeutic Modalities
You may prepare for the exam by studying from the NPTE Candidate Handbook and by taking the online practice exam & assessment tool (PEAT).
You must score the equivalent of a 600 on scale ranging from 200-800 to pass the exam.
Step 4. Start your Career as a Physical Therapist Assistant in Washington
Passing the NPTE-PTA will allow you to obtain your physical therapist assistant license. At that point, you may begin applying for available jobs at one of Washington’s many respected physical therapy clinics, assisted living facilities, universities, public health organizations and hospital inpatient rehabilitation centers.
Just some of the top employers of physical therapist assistants in the state include:
- Avalon Care Center in Federal Way
- Avamere Rehabilitation of Cascade Park in Vancouver
- Avamere Rehabilitation of Tacoma in Tacoma
- EvergreenHealth Monroe in Monroe
- Island Hospital – Physical Therapy in Anacortes
- Lake Chelan Community Hospital in Chelan
- ManorCare Health Services in Lacey, Lynnwood, Spokane, and Vancouver
- Northwest Hospital & Medical Center in Seattle
- Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles
- St Francis Hospital in Federal Way
Step 5. Complete Continuing Competency Hours to Keep your License Current
In order to maintain your license as a physical therapist assistant in Washington, you must renew your license with the Department of Health-Board of Physical Therapy every year on or before your birthday. If you initially receive your license within three months of your birthday, you will not have to renew your license until your next birthday.
You will receive information on how to renew your license before your license expires. You must pay a $125 fee at the time of each renewal.
Along with your annual license renewal, you must complete and document 40 hours of Continuing Education (CE) and 200 hours of employment every two years. To verify your CE hours, you must complete a continuing education form and send it to the Department. The Washington Physical Therapy Board does not pre-approve CE hours.