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Is it financially smarter to become a PT Assistant, work, and obtain an undergraduate degree or pursue an undergraduate degree for Physical Therapy, use that degree for a job, and still work your way to become a DPT?

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6 answers

Taylor’s Answer

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As Sarah mentioned above, being a PTA is a great option if you know that being a PT is what you want to do. You will save money by only completing a 2 year degree as opposed to a traditional 4 year bachelors degree, plus you'll earn money working as a PTA so you can pay for PT school with fewer loans (if any) required. You will need to be prepared to take pre-requisite courses that are required for PT school, but you can complete the majority of these through community college and/or online. In addition, coming from someone who completed a 4 year undergraduate degree and then went straight into DPT school, I could see the advantage in clinical knowledge and skills my classmates who were initially PTAs demonstrated.
Another option you could consider if you aren't sure you're sold on working as a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant is trying to find a job as a PT aide (typically in outpatient settings) or a PT tech (more common in the hospital/inpatient setting). They serve similar roles, but their titles just differ based on setting for some reason. This is an hourly paid position, but you will work alongside PTs and PTAs so you can get a firsthand look into what these professions entail.
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Joshua’s Answer

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Hi Edith! Thank you for the question! I am a PT, and based on my experiences with other PT and PTA's I have often found that if you believe strongly that working in the physical therapy field is your calling( have you done shadowing, does the work appeal to many components of your personality; ie- you are an extrovert, you like studying human anatomy, and you pride yourself on your patience, for example), then I highly suggest that you go directly to PT school. A number of PTs who used to be PTAs lament that they had not gone directly into being a PT. This decision impacted them financially, and they also realized that they don't have nearly as much independence in decision-making as PTAs than as PTs. Also there are a number of settings where employers are not looking for PTAs, or that your state has a lot of rules and regulations for PTAs that you would need to abide by, that sometimes can be messy. Also, The courses you take for PTA school would essentially not be relevant for PT school sadly.

I am confused however. When you say that one of your choices would be to get an undergraduate PT, upon graduation, that would not enable you to practice, would it? Everyone who gets a license needs to be a doctorate now. So, if the question becomes, Edith, that upon receiving your undergraduate degree in PT (which wont enable you to practice) then I would want to know if a high percentage of the courses you take at this university are transferable to doctoral PT schools. That is HUGELY important and pragmatic , I believe. Getting a number of classes under your belt in preparation for doctoral school would be a great idea, taking into account your financial situation.

Best wishes!
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Kimberly’s Answer

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I would ask yourself if you really want to seek being a PT. Then and volunteer first in SNFs, hospitals, outpatient, etc and truly expose yourself to every possible setting in which both PTAs and PTs can apply their skills.

Also, I would seek out other medical professions such as nursing, MD, x-ray or ultrasound technicians and compare the cost of education to your potential income.

I feel all this would add some really great exposure to everything you may be able to encounter in the medical field. It would allow you to decide if PTA/PT route is the best choice for you.

As for obtaining a skill set, currently, the PTA route is normally a 2 year degree and will give you the ability to apply and earn while you work towards PT or are in PT school. Being a PT will give you a leg up in the job market as you will be able to perform evaluations, progress notes and discharges where a PT can't.
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Joshua’s Answer

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Hi Edith! Thank you for the question! I am a PT, and based on my experiences with other PT and PTA's I have often found that if you believe strongly that working in the physical therapy field is your calling( have you done shadowing, does the work appeal to many components of your personality; ie- you are an extrovert, you like studying human anatomy, and you pride yourself on your patience, for example), then I highly suggest that you go directly to PT school. A number of PTs who used to be PTAs lament that they had not gone directly into being a PT. This decision impacted them financially, and they also realized that they don't have nearly as much independence in decision-making as PTAs than as PTs. Also there are a number of settings where employers are not looking for PTAs, or that your state has a lot of rules and regulations for PTAs that you would need to abide by, that sometimes can be messy. Also, The courses you take for PTA school would essentially not be relevant for PT school sadly.

I am confused however. When you say that one of your choices would be to get an undergraduate PT, upon graduation, that would not enable you to practice, would it? Everyone who gets a license needs to be a doctorate now. So, if the question becomes, Edith, that upon receiving your undergraduate degree in PT (which wont enable you to practice) then I would want to know if a high percentage of the courses you take at this university are transferable to doctoral PT schools. That is HUGELY important and pragmatic , I believe. Getting a number of classes under your belt in preparation for doctoral school would be a great idea, taking into account your financial situation.

Best wishes!
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Sarah’s Answer

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I have several friend who worked as PTAs while waiting to get into PT school. I know the PT field is highly competitive and working as a PTA helped give them a leg up on their applications. I would say if you are interested in doing PT for sure, being a PTA is a great option to help fund your education and make you a competitive applicant. Some people get a degree in exercise science, and then don't have a lot of career options so they end up becoming a PTA anyway while waiting to get into PT school. I also think working as a PTA would give you really good exposure to what a DPT actually does everyday. You may decide you really like it, or that something else in healthcare interests you.
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Ryan’s Answer

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If you want to be a PT go straight to it! Don’t waste time with PTA unless maybe you don’t get into PT school on your first go around. Speaking of financially smarter, it isn’t currently “financially smart” to become a PT if you will he taking out loans. The income to debt ratio is extremely unfavorable at this time. However if your money situation is different or you WANT to be a PT, then go straight for DPT first! If anything, work as a PT aide during school.
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