Earning an associate degree in physical therapy can open the door to employment as a physical therapist assistant, put you on course to earn credits toward a higher degree, or lead to related fields of study. One of the fastest growing professions in the U.S., physical therapy is in high demand in hospitals, nursing facilities, home health services, outpatient care facilities and doctors' offices.
Associate degrees in physical therapy
Earning an associate degree in physical therapy can give you a firm foundation of knowledge to serve you well as you advance to higher degrees. Typical courses include anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, exercise physiology, developmental psychology and statistics. You might also choose to take courses in gerontology, client assessment, professional ethics and standards, or specialized courses in physical therapy geared toward pediatrics or orthopedics.
Career options, outlook and salary
To work as a physical therapy aide, you must have a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Those who earn an associate degree in physical therapy could work as physical therapist assistants. These employees work under the direct supervision of a licensed physical therapist and, in most states, must be licensed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment growth of 35 percent for physical therapy assistants and aides from 2008 to 2018. Advances in technology and an aging population are contributing factors to this increase. Job growth is expected to be particularly strong in skilled nursing facilities, hospitals and orthopedic settings, as well as rural areas. Physical therapy assistants earned mean annual wages of $49,810 in 2010.
Going beyond the associate degree
For many aspiring physical therapists, the associate degree is a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree and beyond. It is the four-year degree that is often required for entry-level work in related careers such as athletic training, physical education and coaching, pre-medicine, exercise science and others. A master's degree or doctoral degree is usually required for those who want to work as actual physical therapists. However, earning an associate degree in physical therapy, particularly online, can give you the opportunity to further your education while flexing your muscles in the work field.