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Program Information

Role of the PTA

The physical therapist assistant (PTA) works with and under the direction and supervision of the physical therapist in a wide variety of health care settings.  These settings include hospitals, private offices, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, schools, fitness centers, and home care settings.

PTs/PTAs provide a wide variety of physical therapy services to people of all ages who have limitations in their ability to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives, due to medical problems or other health-related conditions.  The PT/PTA relationship is one in which the PT provides supervision and role modeling with an emphasis of continual communication.  The physical therapist evaluates the patient/client and establishes a plan of care in which selected interventions are designated.  These interventions are applied and progressed by the physical therapist assistant.  Through on-going monitoring and data collection of patient/client responses, the PTA recognizes if and when treatments should not be administered secondary to the patient/client status or condition and thus communicates same to the PT.  Moreover, the PTA must possess the ability to distinguish whether an intervention procedure is outside of his/her scope of practice and will pursue clarification with the physical therapist.

Potential interventions provided by a PTA may include training techniques and education to improve strength, coordination, and balance; exercises to improve activities of daily living and mobility, for example, walking with devices such as crutches, walkers or canes; manual techniques to reduce pain and increase range of motion; the use of modalities or physical agents and various forms of electrical stimulation.  Intervention is not limited to the application of physical treatment alternatives, but the PTA also affords education to patients/ clients, family members, caregivers and other health care professionals including PTA students.

The PTA relates information with regard to treatments, responses, education, and billing in the form of verbal and/or non-verbal communication and documentation.


Individual states have different policies/codes concerning the requirements that will permit an individual to practice as a physical therapist assistant. For information about licensure/certification, a student will have to contact the various state boards of medical examiners in order to receive specific information for a particular state. Please contact the Department Chairperson for the addresses of the various state boards of medical examiners.

Upon initiating the application to New York State Department of Education for Certification Form 1, Questions 10 through 14 are directed at determining a candidate's moral character. The New York State Department of Education maintains the right to both determine and provide an appeal process of the determination of good moral character.

The Field of Physical Therapy

The field of Physical Therapy is an exciting field in which graduates have the opportunity to assist clients of all ages in improving their health, well-being, and function. Physical Therapists (PT's) and Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) practice in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, private practice, home care settings, schools, and industrial facilities. State laws vary regarding the scope of practice in Physical Therapy; however, the PTA must always work under the direction and supervision of the PT.

Essential Functions of the Physical Therapist Assistant


Orange County Community College is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The Physical Therapist Assistant Department admitted its first class in 1975 and received initial accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education in 1977. Recent accreditation was granted in 2019 with the next CAPTE visit scheduled in 2029. The program has maintained its accreditation status since 1977.

Scholarship/Gift Opportunity

There are two scholarship funds and one memorial fund which are offered exclusively to our Physical Therapist Assistant students. Contributions may be made by identifying the name of the fund (see listings below) and then by contacting the SUNY Orange Foundation.

  • Excellence in Physical Therapy Scholarship Fund (James Spinks): awarded annually to a full- or part-time, returning/continuing student in the Physical Therapist Assistant program
  • The Roberta Bernstein Scholarship Fund: awarded annually to a returning/continuing student in the Physical Therapist Assistant program who demonstrates financial need
  • Floyd Hood Memorial Physical Therapy Scholarship: awarded annually to a full- or part-time, returning/continuing student in the Physical Therapist Assistant program
  • James Thomas Holmbraker Memorial Scholarship: established through the generosity of SUNY Orange colleague Steve Holmbraker, awarded annually to a full-time, returning/continuing student, merit based, in International Studies or Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Dr. Karen Stephens PTA Scholarship: established in honor of Dr. Karen Stephens, retired Physical Therapist Assistant program faculty member and college leader; awarded annually to a full-time, returning/continuing student, who is starting the second-year of the PTA program, with an overall GPA of 3.0; preference given to a single parent
  • Mulhare Family Scholarship: established in honor of the marriage of Laura Mulhare and John Burkhalter, for a full- or part-time, returning/continuing student in the Physical Therapist Assistant program

All gifts are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowable by law.

Additional Information


The Orange County Community College Physical Therapist Assistant Department bases its educational approach on the vision and values of the greater college.  It is the philosophy of our department to embrace the culturally diverse population encountered in the community college setting fostering a caring and supportive environment based on mutual respect and integrity between faculty to student, and student to student.  We strive to provide excellence in PTA education and are committed to maintaining the educational standards set forth by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).  This is accomplished by providing an enriching and nurturing environment populated by faculty, staff and students, diverse and multicultural, offering a mixture of both professional and life experiences.

The faculty members, staff and clinical educators of Orange County Community College Physical Therapist Assistant Department make every effort to acknowledge, respect and accommodate every type of learning, style of learner, and stage of learning ensuring that all students receive a challenging and rewarding academic, clinical and intellectual experience.  We recognize that the student population contains an assortment of individuals who span various age groups, cultural backgrounds, and value systems.  We are committed to providing all students with appropriate professional role modeling with the intention to promote the importance the PTA possesses in the connection with the PT and their patients/clients.  Our focus is on life long commitment to the profession, dedication to the surrounding communities and personal career development.  Our intention is to instill the value which the PTA brings to the PT and his/her patient/client.


Orange County Community College Physical Therapist Assistant Program strives to recruit and admit a full class of qualified candidates from our community; to provide each student with an enriching educational experience; to enhance and to deepen the appreciation of our diversified culture.  Our faculty seeks to instill personal commitment of the students to graduate, ready their ability to obtain employment, and establish their place within the health care system.

Outcomes & Goals

Students will:

  • Possess entry-level skills as determined by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
  • Be able to work under the direction and supervision of a licensed physical therapist in an ethical, legal, safe, and effective manner becoming an integral member of the healthcare team.
  • Demonstrate appropriate critical thinking and problem-solving skills in their role as a Physical Therapist Assistant.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the New York State Education Law as it relates to the provision of Physical Therapy services.
  • Successfully complete the National Physical Therapy Exam for PTAs.
  • Develop the skills necessary to pursue lifelong learning needed for personal and professional growth.
  • Be aware of their responsibility to promote the profession through membership in the APTA, attending local and national meetings and conferences, and participation in community events.

Program/Faculty Goals:

  • Provide role modeling for relationships of PT/PTA and PTA/PTA;
  • Provide role modeling by full-time faculty/instructors in the pursuit of lifelong learning for personal and professional growth including but not limited to membership in the APTA, attending local and national meetings and conferences, and participation in community events;
  • Encourage faculty members’ development in both teaching and professional skills, so that they can continue to revise their courses and help in program evaluation and revisions;
  • Provide the student with a variety of clinical experiences in order that he/she may have an opportunity to practice the complete range/variations of competencies/skills included in our curriculum;
  • Provide the student with the opportunity to gain additional information on professional topics by making resources, on hand, readily available;
  • Continual ongoing program assessment to insure that all aspects of the program are kept up to date and appropriate.

Our Comprehensive Curriculum

The physical therapist assistant curriculum includes, or its prerequisites include elements of general education, including basic sciences that include biological, physical, physiological, and anatomical principles, and applied physical therapy science. The course work is designed to prepare the student to think independently, to clarify values, to understand fundamental theory, and to develop critical thinking and communication skills.

The technical education component of the curriculum includes learning experiences to prepare the entry-level physical therapist assistant to work under the direction and supervision of the physical therapist. Courses within the curriculum include content designed to prepare program graduates to meet the described performance expectations.


  • Communicates verbally and non-verbally with the patient, the physical therapist, health care delivery personnel, and others in an effective, appropriate, and capable manner.

Individual and Cultural Differences

  • Recognizes individual and cultural differences and responds appropriately in all aspects of physical therapy services.

Behavior and Conduct

  • Exhibits conduct that reflects a commitment to meet the expectations of members of society receiving health care services.
  • Exhibits conduct that reflects a commitment to meet the expectations of members of the profession of physical therapy.
  • Exhibits conduct that reflects practice standards that are legal, ethical and safe.

Plan of Care

  • Communicates an understanding of the plan of care developed by the physical therapist to achieve short and long term goals and intended outcomes.
  • Demonstrates competence in implementing selected components of interventions identified in the plan of care established by the physical therapist. Interventions include:

    Functional Training

    • activities of daily living
    • assistive/adaptive equipment
    • body mechanics
    • developmental activities
    • gait and locomotion training
    • prosthetics and orthotic devises
    • wheelchair management skills

    Infection Control Procedures

    • isolation techniques
    • sterile technique

    Manual Therapy Techniques

    • passive range of motion
    • therapeutic massage

    Physical Agents and Mechanical Agents

    • thermal agents
    • biofeedback
    • compression therapies
    • cryotherapy
    • electro therapeutic agents
    • hydrotherapy
    • superficial and deep thermal agents
    • traction

    Therapeutic Exercise

    • aerobic conditioning
    • balance and coordination training
    • breathing exercises and coughing techniques
    • conditioning and reconditioning
    • posture awareness training
    • range of motion exercises
    • stretching exercises
    • strengthening exercises

    Wound Management

    • application and removal of dressing or agents
    • identification of precautions for dressing removal

Demonstrates competency in performing components of data collection skills essential for carrying out the plan of care:

Aerobic Capacity and Endurance

  • measures standard vital signs
  • recognizes and monitors responses to positional changes and activities
  • observes and monitors thoracoabdominal movements and breathing patterns with activity

Anthropometrical Characteristics

  • measures height, weight, length and girth

Arousal, mentation and Cognition

  • recognizes changes in the direction and magnitude of patient's state of arousal, mentation and cognition

Assistive, Adaptive, Orthotic, Protective, Supportive, & Prosthetic Devices

  • identifies the individual's and caregivers' ability to care for the device
  • recognizes changes in skin condition while using devices and equipment
  • recognizes safety factors while using the device

Gait, Locomotion, and Balance

  • describes the safety, status, and progression of patients while engaged in gait, locomotion, balance, wheelchair management and mobility

Integumentary Integrity

  • recognizes absent or altered sensation
  • recognizes normal and abnormal integumentary changes
  • recognizes activities, positioning and postures that aggravate or relieve pain or altered sensations, or that can produce associated skin trauma
  • recognizes viable versus nonviable tissue

Joint Integrity and Mobility

  • recognizes normal and abnormal joint movement

Muscle Performance

  • measures muscle strength by manual muscle testing
  • observes the presence or absence of muscle mass
  • recognizes normal and abnormal muscle length
  • recognizes changes in muscle tone

Neuromotor Development

  • recognizes gross motor milestones
  • recognizes fine motor milestones
  • recognizes righting and equilibrium reactions


  • administers standardized questionnaires, graphs, and behavioral scales
  • recognizes activities, positioning, and postures that aggravate or relieve pain or altered sensations


  • describes resting posture in any position
  • recognizes alignment of trunk and extremities at rest and during activities

Range of Motion

  • measures functional range of motion
  • measures range of motion using a goniometer

Self-cared and Home Management and Community or Work Reintegration

  • inspects the physical environment and measures physical space
  • recognizes safety and barriers in home, community and work environments
  • recognizes level of functional status
  • administers standardized questionnaires to patients and others

Ventilation, Respiration and Circulation Examination

  • recognizes cyanosis
  • recognizes activities that aggravator relieve edema, pain, dyspenea, or other symptoms
  • describes chest wall expansion and excursion
  • describes cough and sputum characteristics

Performance Expectations continued:

  • Adjusts interventions within the plan of care established by the physical therapist in response to patient clinical indications and reports this to the supervising therapist.
  • Recognizes when intervention should not be provided due to changes in the patient's status and reports this to the supervising physical therapist.
  • Reports any changes in the patient's status to the supervising physical therapist.
  • Recognizes when the direction to perform an intervention is beyond that which is appropriate for a physical therapist assistant and initiates clarification with the physical therapist.
  • Participates in educating patients and caregivers as direct by the supervising physical therapist.
  • Provides patient-related instruction to patients, family members, and care givers to achieve patient outcomes based on the plan of care established by the physical therapist
  • Takes appropriate action in an emergency situation.
  • Completes thorough, accurate, logical, concise, timely, and legible documentation that follows guidelines and specific documentation formats required by state practice acts, the practice setting, and other regulatory agencies.
  • Participates in discharge planning and follow-up as directed by the supervising physical therapist.
  • Reads and understands the health care literature.


  • under the direction and supervision of the physical therapist, instructs other members of the health care team using established techniques, programs, and instructional materials commensurate with the learning characteristics of the audience.
  • educates others about the role of the physical therapist assistant.



  • interacts with other members of the health care team in patient-care and non- patient care activities.
  • provides accurate and timely information for billing and reimbursement purposes.
  • describes aspects of organizational planning and operation of the physical therapy service.
  • participates in performance improvement activities (quality assurance).

Social Responsibility

  • demonstrates a commitment to meeting the needs of the patients and consumers.
  • demonstrate an awareness of social responsibility, citizenship, and advocacy, including participation in community and service organizations and activities.

Career Development


  • identifies career development and lifelong learning opportunities.
  • recognizes the role of the physical therapist assistant in the clinical education of physical therapist assistant students.