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After this chapter, the reader will be able to:

  1. Define physical therapy

  2. Give a historical perspective of how the role of a physical therapist assistant (PTA) has changed over the years

  3. Name some of the pioneers who played a significant role in the development of today’s physical therapy profession

  4. Describe how the name of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) was derived

  5. Describe how social change affected the growth of physical therapy in the United States

  6. Discuss the purposes of having a code of ethics for a profession

  7. Describe the differences between morals and ethics

  8. Have a good understanding of the APTA policies that address practice standards, ethical conduct, and professionalism

  9. Describe the various members of the healthcare team

  10. Describe the different physical therapy practice settings

  11. Describe some of the challenges faced by healthcare workers


The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is the national organization that represents the physical therapist (PT) and the physical therapist assistant (PTA). It currently has a national office in Alexandria, Virginia, and a chapter office in almost every state. APTA membership for PTs, PTAs, and their respective student categories is voluntary and not mandatory for licensure. Several APTA publications, including The Guide to Physical Therapist Practice 3.0 (“the Guide”)1 and a monthly journal aptly named Physical Therapy, guide the physical therapy profession.

The House of Delegates (HOD), composed of voting delegates from all chapters and nonvoting delegates from each section, is the APTA’s policymaking body. The HOD works closely with the Board of Directors (BOD), the latter of which consists of six APTA officers and nine directors, to establish the APTA’s policies and directives.


The organizational structure of the APTA consists of four main levels:

  • District: Although not located in all jurisdictions, a district represents the APTA at the local level.

  • Chapter: There is a chapter in each state and the District of Columbia, and each has proportional representation at the national level. Each chapter requires dues from PT and PTA members.

  • Section: Each of the 18 sections provides members with similar areas of interest to interact with each other. The various sections meet annually at the Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) in early February.

  • Assembly: Members of an assembly belong to the same class (category) and can exist at the state and national levels.

PTAs are healthcare professionals who help maintain, restore, and improve movement, activity, and health, enabling an individual to have optimal functioning and quality of life while ensuring patient safety and applying evidence to provide efficient and effective care. PTAs are involved in promoting health, wellness, and fitness by implementing services to reduce risk, slow the progression of or prevent functional decline and disability, and enhance participation in chosen life situations.1 The Guide, which outlines the roles of PTs and PTAs across a ...

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