PTA instructor

How to Become a PTA Instructor

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I wanted a change.

During my first few years as a practicing clinician, I did not miss school. I felt excited and rewarded to be making a difference in my patients’ lives, validated that I was good at my craft, and happy to get to be on the move most of the day.

But soon enough, my thirst for learning returned.

I also began to notice a pattern in the clinical community: emotional and physical burnout could blunt passion for continued learning. One answer to avoiding this stagnation is finding balance in skill diversification, and while I initially fought the monotony with continuing education classes and dabbling in clinical instructing, I ultimately found my passion in the classroom. I believe that education is a privilege which should be paid forward, and I was ready to give back.

I realized I wanted to become a physical therapy professor.

The academic environment, where learning, teaching, sharing and innovating are championed, was calling me back, but I was disappointed to learn that the track to becoming a core physical therapy faculty member in a DPT program involves acquiring a PhD or other terminal (non-clinical) doctorate. That seemed impractical, due to my existing loans and lack of desire to perform research.

No PhD? No problem!

Instead, I decided to get serious about clinical instructing, so I signed up for the APTA Certified Clinical Instructor (CI) Program on a local PTA school campus. This afforded me the opportunity to meet with the PTA Program Director. I had the privilege of working beside a couple of top notch graduates of this program, and learning about the curriculum during this meeting left me even more impressed and intrigued.

Timing was on my side and they happened to have a full-time position open, so I took the plunge from PT clinician to PTA instructor!

If you are interested in teaching, but pursuing a PhD is not in the cards, consider PTA education!

Academia/Education crash course

Why being a PTA instructor is great

One of the best things about working in PTA education is the more direct route to a non-clinical career. A PhD is not required, nor is formal teaching experience. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) states that core members of the PTA faculty must:

  • Be licensed
  • Have three years of clinical experience
  • Have “contemporary expertise” for their teaching responsibilities

Physical therapists are also very well suited to teach PTAs. We share much of the same curriculum, and we educate patients and families on a daily basis.

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I will be the first to say that standing in front of a classroom is much different than patient care, but the APTA Education Section has many great resources, such as the Faculty Development Workshop, to help with the transition from clinic to classroom.

What I do in my role

Most PTA schools do not require or have the support to conduct research, so many opportunities will be part time.

However, each program is required by CAPTE to have at least 2 full time positions:
Program Director and Clinical Director.

Currently, I am the Clinical Director (also known as the DCE/ACCE), and my job responsibilities include:

  • Managing student practicums
  • Managing relationships with clinical sites
  • Teaching courses

This role offers me the unique opportunity and responsibility to remain engaged with the local community and clinical world.

What’s required to be a Clinical Director

For my position as Clinical Director, here’s what’s required:

  • Three years of clinical experience
  • CAPTE also requires either two years of experience as a clinical instructor or two years in teaching and educational administration

Becoming a CI is the first logical step, and here’s why:

  • It will show you if you enjoy working with students
  • You’ll connect with educational institutions
  • It provides experience you may need to qualify for leadership in a PTA program

Other steps I would recommend include:

  • Talking to your PTA coworkers about their respective programs
  • Contacting your local PTA program to join their advisory board that typically meets bi-annually
  • Reaching out to the PTA program to volunteer as a lab assistant and/or to offer to guest lecture on your area of specialty
  • Joining the APTA Education Section

People sometimes ask if I miss clinical work, now that I am a full-time PTA educator. Some days, when I spend too long prepping or grading at my desk, I do miss all of the movement.

Of course, I also miss my patients, but as an instructor, you get the consistent human interaction and the opportunity to reach many more eager minds in a single lesson.

Teaching involves simultaneous learning and contributing, and it is a life-long pursuit that’s well within your reach as a PT!

9 thoughts on “How to Become a PTA Instructor”

  1. Hello,

    Great article! I’m wondering if you need to be a licensed PT having practiced for 3 years, or could you also be a licensed PTA having practiced for 3 years in order to become a PTA instructor?

    1. Hi Berika! Thank you for the kind words and the comment. I believe that you can be a PTA with 3 years of experience for many of the programs. You will want to check specifically with the program to make sure, though. Best of luck!!! I hope you find a role that you love!

  2. My understanding was PHD or DPT plus board certified. Although I’ve seen preference for PhD I also note that a good amount of Faculty are DPT only and I think this will increase with time. This was actually one frustration with me with PT vs pharm etc.. but I hope it’s mostly dpt newness. I am currently a DPT student and considering teaching in the future

    1. Hi David!
      For the PTA level, you generally don’t need the PhD or DPT. Some PT schools do want that, though. If you’re considering teaching, definitely let your professors know that’s the case. You can probably TA in some intro courses to get experience, and you might get offered some adjunct roles upon graduation. “Don’t ask, don’t get,” as they say 🙂

  3. Do you have recommendations on resume writing as you are trying to make the switch from clinical PTA to the non clinical teaching arena?

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