Physical Therapist vs. Physical Therapist Assistant

By the very nature of physical therapy, most careers in this field are personally rewarding. In fact, as a part of this kind of work force, it is your basic desire to give help to others who are in need. While many careers in the healthcare industry are financially and emotionally rewarding, the field of physical therapy is taking job fulfillment to a whole new level. If you are planning to pursue a physical therapy career you should first try to find out all available disciplines and jobs. On this article we will compare physical therapist vs. physical therapist assistant and let you decide which one is right for you.

Becoming a Physical Therapist

So what does it take to become a physical therapist? Say a patient is in need of treatment for neuromuscular or musculoskeletal concerns, who can he go to in order to go back to his normal day-to-day activities soon?

The physical therapist is there to provide services that are aimed at the prevention or slowing down the progression of physical conditions brought about by disease, injury and other causes. This is according to the definition provided by the APTA or the American Physical Therapy Association.

The PT gives services to persons of all ages who are suffering from functional conditions due to sprains, strains, neck injuries, fractures, burns, arthritis, stroke, amputations, MS (multiple sclerosis), cerebral palsy, birth defects, and many more.

And increased need for PTs resulted into more opportunities in other areas of specializations such as –

  • Aquatic therapy
  • Orthopedics
  • Geriatrics
  • Home health
  • Neurology
  • Sports medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Acute care
  • Electrotherapy
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Occupational health
  • Women’s health
  • Administration, etc.

It’s a must to earn your Bachelor’s degree and eventually a Master’s degree if you want to become a physical therapist. Doing so will open a lot of opportunities for you. All four years that you invest in your Bachelor’s degree will pave an excellent career path for you. And you can carve your name in the physical therapy industry as you finish your Master’s degree and certification.

The Three Levels of Physical Therapy Career

There are three levels when it comes to physical therapy practice –

  • Physical therapist
  • Physical therapist assistant
  • Physical therapist aide

Choosing to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

A PTA is an educated health provider who assists the physical therapist in the provision of physical therapy and may also provide physical therapy intervention as directed by a physical therapist.

Typical duties include –

  • Light, heat and sound treatments
  • Massages
  • Facilitation of exercises in order to heal nerves, muscles, joints and bones.
  • Instruct patients (or their relatives) on the use of devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, etc.

It is true that every job requires some form of education. This is also true for a physical therapist assistant. A PTA needs to be educated to do his job correctly. He needs to have at least an Associate’s degree though he can also receive higher education if he wants to. Lines of specialization for a physical therapist assistant are –

  • Spinal care
  • Sports medicine
  • Geriatric training, etc.

Difference in Education

The minimum requirement for physical therapy education is to have a post-baccalaureate degree from any of the accredited institutions. This degree allows a would-be physical therapist to obtain broader background in liberal arts and integrate scientific technology into their future jobs.

A physical therapy assistant, on the other hand, must generally possess an Associate’s degree. There are over 250 accredited physical therapy assistant programs all over the country. The State Board of Medical Examiners should also license a PTA. Forty states require PTAs to pass a written exam prior to being granted a license. Added requirements include CPR and first aid trainings and a specified number of clinical hours.

Different Levels, Same Purpose

Though there’s a slight difference when it comes to the duties performed by a physical therapist and a physical therapist assistant, the core principle for both careers remains the same – this is to provide superior physical therapy to their patients.

Physical therapy treatments are formulated by a licensed physical therapist while the physical therapist assistant is often the one who is asked to administer this same treatment. A PTA performs everything under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist or a physician. These duties could also include –

  • Giving paraffin baths
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Providing massages
  • Exercise instruction and aid
  • Hot and cold packs
  • Ultrasound equipment operation
  • Traction, etc.

The PTA, on the other hand, differs from a physical therapist aide because the former has to have a license in order to perform his duties. A PTA can also become the direct superior of a therapist aide.

The Future in Physical Therapy Employment

More and more people are now realizing the importance of physical therapy. With accidents happening daily and diseases developing, a physical therapist and his assistant will have more employment opportunities to look forward to. This is a job that won’t go down with any economic upheaval so you’re definitely treading a stable career path.