PTA Students Tell It Like It Is

FVCC Physical Therapist Students performing a lab activity
FVCC Physical Therapist Students perform reflex testing

When asked just how rigorous FVCC’s Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program is, students don’t sugarcoat their answers. They say it’s a highly demanding program that requires 100 percent of their focus and commitment for 18 intense months. And they say the rewards of the program are worth every long day and late night.

In addition to classroom lectures and labs, the PTA program involves 16 weeks of clinical experience, including a four-week inpatient stint at the end of the first semester. During clinicals, students work directly with patients and get the satisfaction of seeing firsthand how their work helps people regain movement, strength, and ultimately, independence. As an example, a day in the life of a PTA student might involve helping someone be able to return to his or her home after an extended stay in a hospital or rehab facility, an experience that students say is well worth the demands of the program.

What does a Physical Therapist Assistant do? Working under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist, PTAs utilize various rehabilitative techniques to help patients control pain and live more satisfying lives after a debilitating injury, illness or disease. PTAs work with people of all ages and abilities in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings, including clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

What are the steps to becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant? Prior to applying to FVCC’s PTA program, students must complete pre-requisite courses in math and science, including classes in Human Anatomy & Physiology. They also must have a minimum GPA of 2.75, current CPR certification and 30 hours of experience observing physical therapy in various settings. Once accepted into the competitive PTA program, students commit to an intensive 18-month program, at the end of which, they are awarded an Associate of Applied Science degree and are prepared to sit for the national licensure exam approved by the Montana Board of Physical Therapy Examiners. After passing the licensure exam, graduates are eligible to work under the supervision of a physical therapist.

What makes a good Physical Therapist Assistant? According to FVCC PTA Program Director Janice Heil, successful PTAs have excellent communication skills, and they enjoy working with people. It also helps to excel at math and science, she says. Student with these qualities can then obtain the technical skills they need through an accredited PTA training program, such as the one offered at FVCC.

What is the employment outlook for Physical Therapist Assistants? Physical therapy is one of the fastest growing health care fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for PTAs is expected to increase 30 percent between 2016 and 2026. The national annual median wage for PTAs is $45,290. In Montana, the annual median wage for PTAs is $40,400.

Want to know more? Visit or call (406)756.3373. To learn about the other health care programs at FVCC, visit You’ll find information about 14 different programs, including length of program, rigor of required math and science, amount of direct patient care involved, and more.

Be aware that many programs have pre-requisite courses that must be completed prior to submitting an application. Also know that the application deadlines for different programs vary, with some deadlines occurring in the spring and others in the fall.

Spring program deadlines:

  • Medical Lab Technology
  • Paramedicine
  • Pharmacy Technology
  • Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Radiologic Technology
  • Registered Nursing
Fall program deadlines:

  • Medical Assistant
  • Practical Nursing
  • Surgical Technology

Ultimately, the best way to find the right health care program for you is to talk with a knowledgeable academic advisor. FVCC’s Health Sciences Academic Advisor is at your service. Call (406) 756-3822.