If you’re considering a career in occupational therapy (OT) or physical therapy (PT), you may be wondering exactly what the difference is between these two professions. That’s totally understandable, as these two healthcare fields share a lot in common and are often confused with one another.
Both professions provide vital, hands-on rehabilitative work to help clients and patients perform daily tasks with optimal independence and quality of life. Additionally, both require many of the same skills, offer competitive salaries, and enjoy strong job outlooks. However, OT and PT take different approaches to how they improve people’s lives. So, if you’re interested in pursuing one of these career paths, it may be helpful for you to understand some of these key distinctions first.
The difference between OT and PT is that OT focuses on improving a client’s ability to perform everyday activities, while PT focuses specifically on improving a patient’s ability to perform body movements and function.
OT takes a more holistic approach, with the overall goal of helping clients perform daily activities with the highest degree of independence possible. OT practitioners treat clients who are recovering from injuries or have developmental or cognitive disabilities. Their approach may include physical exercise, wellness promotion, therapeutic adaptations, and modifications to the client’s home and work environments. For someone recovering from a stroke, an occupational therapist might develop treatments to help the client manage daily activities like eating, bathing, and getting dressed.
PT is the physical rehabilitation of people recovering from injuries or disease, with physical therapists treating the patient’s actual impairment. Physical therapists are trained extensively in body mechanics and use treatment techniques that are designed to reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. For someone recovering from a stroke, a physical therapist might develop exercises to strengthen the patient’s muscles for walking, standing, and other movements.
To work in OT or PT, you can choose to become either an occupational therapist (OT), an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), a physical therapist (PT), or physical therapy assistant (PTA). While each role has different educational and licensure requirements, the job responsibilities listed below give a better sense of what day-to-day duties could look like in each position, so you can choose the career path that’s right for you.
To become an OT, you’ll need to first earn a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s degree in OT (which takes between 2-3 years) or a doctorate in OT (which takes about three years). You’ll also need to pass the NBCOT exam and apply for licensure in your state.
To become an OTA, you’ll need to first earn an associate’s degree, successfully pass the NBCOT exam, and obtain a license to practice as an OTA in the state where you plan to work. Keep in mind that licensing requirements and procedures for this position vary slightly by state, so be sure to consult with your state’s OT regulatory agency for specific licensure requirements.
If a career as an OTA sounds like a good fit for you, consider taking Joyce’s fully accredited OTA program. With clinical practice, classroom instruction, and rigorous coursework, you can graduate and start a career as a qualified OTA in less than 20 months.
To become a PT, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree, followed by a professional degree—usually a doctorate in physical therapy (which takes about three years to complete). Then, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and become licensed in the state where you plan to work.
To become a PTA, you’ll first need to earn an associate’s degree and then pass the NPTE. Depending on the licensing requirements of the state, you may also need to pass a state examination and obtain CPR and First Aid certification.
Employment of OTs is projected to grow by 17% from 2020-2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for OTs was $86,280.
Overall employment of OTAs is projected to grow by 34% from 2020-2030. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for OTAs was $62,940.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of PTs is projected to grow by 21% from 2020-2030. As of May 2020, the median annual pay for PTs in the U.S. was $91,010.
Overall employment of PTAs is projected to grow by 32% from 2020-2030. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for PTAs was $59,770.
If OT sounds like a better fit for you, both OTs and OTAs can receive AOTA advanced certifications in:
If you’re interested in pursuing a specialty within the PT field, PTs can receive APTA Specialist Certification in:
By diving into detail about the responsibilities and requirements for each position, we hope that we’ve clarified the differences between these two fields and given you the information you need to decide which career path might be the best fit for you.
Learn more about Joyce’s OTA program.