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

What's the Difference Between a Physical Therapist (PT) and Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)?

How and Where Do I Get PT School Observation Hours?

The physical therapy industry provides many opportunities for employment and involvement, including physical therapists (PT), physical therapist assistants (PTA), and physical therapist technicians. But what’s the difference between a physical therapist (PT) and physical therapist assistant (PTA)?

Physical therapists help people across the life span. As specialists in movement, physical therapists can rehabilitate people recovering from an injury or with other health conditions. Physical therapists examine and diagnose people and then create an individualized plan, which may include decreasing pain, improving mobility and function, and/or preventing further injury. ¹

According to the APTA, “Physical therapist assistants provide physical therapist services under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. PTAs implement components of patient care, obtain data related to the treatments provided, and collaborate with the PT to modify care as necessary.” ² Most PTAs work in private clinics or hospitals, and all PTAs work under a PT’s supervision. ² 

PTs and PTAs ultimately work together to improve their patients’ quality of life, and comprise integral parts of the rehabilitation journey.

Physical Therapist (PT)

  • Graduate from an accredited Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program (typically three years)
  • Must pass National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) licensure exam and applicable state exams
  • Average Salary: $89,440 per year ³

Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)

  • Graduate from an accredited Physical Therapist Assistant Program (typically two years)
  • Must pass NationalPhysical Therapy Exam licensure exam and applicable state exams ⁴
  • Average Salary: $59,440 per year ⁵

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  1. Becoming a Physical Therapist. APTA. https://www.apta.org/your-career/careers-in-physical-therapy/becoming-a-pt. Accessed April 4, 2021.
  2. Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant. APTA. https://www.apta.org/your-career/careers-in-physical-therapy/becoming-a-pta. Accessed April 4, 2021.
  3. Physical Therapists : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm. Published September 1, 2020. Accessed April 4, 2021.
  4. Physical Therapist vs. Therapist Assistant. All Allied Health Schools. https://www.allalliedhealthschools.com/blog/physical-therapist-vs-physical-therapy-assistant/. Published March 17, 2021. Accessed April 4, 2021.
  5. 31-2021 Physical Therapist Assistants. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm. Published March 31, 2021. Accessed April 4, 2021.

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