physical therapist helping woman roll yoga ball on wall

What's the Difference Between a PT and a PTA?

If you're considering a career in physical therapy, you may be comparing the prerequisites and perks of two distinct options: PT vs. PTA. Differences span all aspects of these occupations, ranging from educational requirements to opportunities for career growth. It's important to understand the distinction between the two positions so you can make an informed decision about what's right for you. Here are the five areas where these two overlapping careers differ.

1. Job Responsibilities

Although physical therapists and physical therapy assistants generally work in the same settings — hospitals, acute-care clinics, nursing facilities and physical therapy offices — there are some notable differences in their day-to-day job responsibilities.

Physical Therapists:

Physical therapists are responsible for:

  • Evaluating patients' symptoms
  • Creating and revising treatment plans
  • Performing hands-on therapy
  • Teaching patients relevant exercises and stretches
  • Overseeing physical therapy assistants

Physical Therapy Assistants:

Physical therapy assistants are responsible for:

  • Helping determine the extent and severity of a patient's injuries
  • Assisting patients with prescribed stretches and exercises
  • Instructing patients in the use and care of assistive equipment
  • Providing post-treatment instructions
  • Reporting progress to the supervising physical therapist

2. Education and Training

Physical Therapists:

Individuals who wish to practice physical therapy must obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from a CAPTE-accredited program. This program generally takes three years to complete and includes courses such as biology, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, kinesiology and pharmacology. The curriculum is made up of about 80% classroom study and lab work. The rest is clinical education.

Although certain programs grant entry to freshmen coming directly from high school, most schools require students to have completed a bachelor's degree prior to admission to the professional physical therapy program.

Physical Therapy Assistants:

Educational requirements for physical therapy assistants vary by state. Many states require practitioners to have an associate degree from an accredited physical therapy program, where students study subjects similar to those required by physical therapy doctoral students. In addition to classroom and laboratory work, PTA programs also include clinical components.

3. Licensing

Physical Therapists:

Physical therapists must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination or a state-administered exam to receive their license to practice. Many states require PTs to pursue continuing education credits to maintain their license.

Physical Therapy Assistants:

Physical therapy assistants must also pass a state- or federal-administered exam to receive a license to practice.

4. Salary & Pay Rates

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a licensed physical therapist is $87,930 per year, which breaks down to an hourly rate of $42.27. Physical therapy assistants can expect to make $48,090 on average each year, or $23.12 per hour.

5. Opportunities for career growth

Physical Therapists:

Through The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, physical therapists may specialize in a number of areas, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, women's health, sports physical therapy and neurology, which can lead to higher wages and better opportunities.

According to the BLS, specialty certification requires 2,000 hours or more of clinical work in a chosen specialty. Candidates must also pass an exam.

Physical Therapy Assistants:

Physical therapy assistants may pursue additional formal education, which can provide a springboard to career moves into administration, management or teaching positions.

Overall Outlook

Both career paths have a strong outlook going forward, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting more than 20% growth in jobs through 2028, which is significantly higher than the national average for jobs in general.

Embarking on a career in travel Physical Therapy

PTs and PTAs who choose to pursue a career in travel physical therapy can expect slightly higher salaries, plus benefits such as company-supplied housing and travel stipends. It's important to note that wages and stipends may vary considerably by region, specialty and unique facility.

Whether you choose a career as a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant, explore exciting options for short-term travel assignments by searching Club Staffing's physical therapy job listings.



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