Physical Therapist vs. Physical Therapy Assistant

What’s the difference between a physical therapist and a physical therapist assistant? Here is all you should know about PT vs. PTA.

In this article, we focus on one such specialization, physical therapy. Here, we’re interested in making vital comparisons between physical and physical therapist assistants.

Assistant physical therapists occupy supporting roles. As you read on, you’ll find all the details below.

Physical Therapist vs. Physical Therapist Assistant

There are many professionals within the healthcare industry with specializations in critical care medicine, dentistry, anesthesiology, and cardiovascular medicine, just to name a few.

Some professionals include sonographers, nurses, obstetricians, radiologists, and a host of others with assistant roles.

An Overview

To fully understand the differences between physical therapists and therapists’ assistants, we’ll need to consider different aspects of these specializations.

Both work together to provide optimal patient care. However, there are critical areas of difference you’ll need to know.

Before we proceed to make critical distinctions between the two, it’s necessary first to identify the significant points of comparison.

They include the level of education, type of services or roles performed, and similarities and career prospects of each specialization.

PTA Physical Therapy Comparison

For a clear idea of the similarities and differences between physical therapists and therapists’ assistants, further discussion on the earlier mentioned will be necessary.

These include the level of education, roles performed, and career prospects.

i. Similarities

First, physical therapists hold advanced degrees (master’s or doctorate) in the study of physical therapy. In contrast, physical therapy assistants have an associate’s degree, which limits their scope of practice.

Now both physical therapists and physical therapy assistants play similar roles in the sense that the improvement of a patient’s quality of life is sought.

This is achieved through physical rehabilitation, which helps improve movement, decrease pain, and enhance strength.

All kinds of exercises are recommended and provided by these professionals to patients. Using therapeutic devices plus physical tasks like exercises helps patients fast recover.

Both physical therapists and assistants must sit for and pass a national board examination.

The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) is this examination or licensure test. While both specializations are required to take this exam, there are specific requirements for each program (physical therapists and physical therapy assistants).

The NPTE exam is only written in CAPTE-accredited schools. CAPTE stands for the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education.

ii. Level of Education

This is a crucial criterion for comparing physical therapists with physical therapy assistants.

Although both specializations are expected to go through the same program, the scope of education or training is different.

To become a physical therapist, you must attend or complete post-graduate study with a master’s or doctorate in physical therapy.

What more? As a practicing physical therapist, you’re mainly required to be licensed. The NPTE is one essential requirement for such.

Physical therapists are also free to choose all kinds of specialties if they wish to. Of course, this will require more education to obtain such a qualification.

On the other hand, physical therapist assistants only need to complete an associate’s degree program at a vocational school or community college.

Some go ahead to complete a four-year degree program.

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to sit for and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to become a physical therapy assistant.

A jurisprudence exam or other examinations may also apply depending on the state you wish to study in.

iii. PTA vs. PT Salary

It’s logical to expect physical therapists to earn significantly higher than physical therapy assistants due to the level of study involved.

However, the earning gap between the two isn’t so wide. The Bureau of Labor Statistics gives the mean annual wage of physical therapists around $92,920.

For physical therapy assistants, the average annual wage or salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is around $59,440 per year, which translates to about $28.58 per hour.

This is one factor of comparison you can easily use to identify and pick your preferred specialization.

iv. Type of Services or Roles Performed

Each of these specializations has specific roles or duties you’ll need to know of.

For physical therapists, these roles include diagnosis of the physical requirements of patients through observation and interview. Result analysis of medical tests follows this.

Physical therapists also collaborate with other professionals to develop a therapy plan to meet patient needs while assisting patients with their physical recovery.

As a physical therapist, your role includes evaluating patient progress during treatment.

Physical therapists may provide treatment modifications to enhance patient recovery. Educating the patient and at-home caregiver about the nature of physical therapy is another responsibility of the physical therapist.

What more? As a physical therapist, you’re saddled with the responsibility of developing a course of physical therapy to aid patients after being discharged from the hospital.

Lastly, physical therapists provide continuous evaluation of patient progress.

On the other hand, physical therapy assistants have unique roles, which essentially help the physical therapist carry out effective patient care.

Roles include observing the patient and reporting findings to the physical therapist while also providing instruction to patients on therapy and assistance.

A physical therapy assistant cooperates with the physical therapist to train patients and caregivers on the safe and proper use of various physical therapy equipment. What more?

Physical therapy assistants also supervise patient progress during treatment.

v. Career Prospects

Compared to other fields requiring similar levels of education, both professions can be said to have competitive medium annual wages.

Plus, there has been a steady growth in demand for services of both physical therapists & physical therapy assistants.

While that is true, it’s easy to see that physical therapists have more chances of advancing through the ranks compared to physical therapy assistants.

However, a physical therapy assistant can further study to become a physical therapist. Following this point, you should better understand what each specialization offers.

The comparison between physical therapists and physical therapy assistants has focused on critical areas covering similarities, level of education, and how much they make, among others.