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What is the difference between a physical therapist, physical therapist assistant and physical therapist technician?

I am looking forward to going into physical therapy school but I am not sure what of these three I want to be. Mostly because I don't know what each one is.

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Lauren’s Answer

PT is a doctorate degree. They evaluate patients and set the plan of care which includes what body part needs to be addressed and what needs to be done to get the patient better.
PTA is an associates/bachelor's degree. They assist and progress activities and exercises that will help the patient progress towards their goals (set by the PT).
Tech is on the job training. Depending on facility, they assist with exercises, modalities (hot/cop pack application, estim or ultrasound).
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Margie’s Answer

Hi Yareli,
The main difference between a PT and a PTA is 1. education/degree and 2. roles and responsibilities in the field.
A physical therapist (PT) is now a doctorate degree which means they require a 4 year undergraduate (bachelor's degree) then a 3 year doctoral (PT program). Tuition average $120K.
A physical therapist assistant (PTA) is an associate's degree (2 years). Tuition averages $10-20K.
School is a combination of classroom/didactic work, labs and clinical rotations.
Both require a degree, passing of the national board exam in order to acquire your license.
A PT performs an evaluation, see patients for follow up treatments, performs re-evaluations and discharges.
A PTA can see patients for follow up treatments.
Both can work in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings.

A PT tech does not need a degree or any formal training. A PT tech works under a PT or PTA and helps out where it is needed.
Some roles of a PT tech includes cleaning in between patients, assisting with exercises, front desk/clerical duties and keep the area/clinic/office neat and organized.

I was a PT tech for 3 years before I went back to school to be a PTA.
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Raquel "Rachel"’s Answer

Hi. Great question. A Physical Therapist requires an extensive time in school and also does all of the patient evaluations, come up with each patients plan of care and treats them. A Physical Therapist Assistant will follow the PT plan of care designed by the Physical Therapist and treat each patient accordingly. Each Therapist can treat the patient With therapeutic interventions how they feel best serves the patient. You can choose to work with many different patient setting ( adult, geriatric, pediatric, sports medicine, neurological like stroke, Parkinson’s disease or traumatic brain injury.) The PTA is required to work under the supervision of the Physical therapist, however, not necessarily directly supervised. I am a PTA and work in skilled nursing rehabilitation and neuro and I graduated from a two-year Applied Associates Science degree from a community college. A technician does not require special training or school, however, many who work this job are students in PT school and it can be tough to get a job otherwise. Good luck with your decision and thanks for the question!
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Albert’s Answer

Hi Yareli,

A Physical Therapist Assistance is able to provide treatment to patients while a Physical Therapy Technician cannot. To become a PTA I believe also requires an Associates degree.
Thank you comment icon Thank you! Yareli
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Lauren Ellis’s Answer

Hello Yareli!

The responses you've received so far are spot on.

To become a Physical Therapist, one must earn a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT), which usually involves a 4-year Bachelor's Degree in a related field (like Kinesiology or Biology) and an additional 2-3 years in a Doctorate Degree program. Some schools offer a "Pre-Physical Therapy" track for undergraduates, which allows you to start your doctorate studies during your undergraduate years, reducing the total study time to 6 years instead of 7. Recently, some colleges have started offering an accelerated DPT program that can be completed in just 2 years.

Physical Therapists evaluate patients, create their Plan of Care, and carry out treatments. They also complete Daily Notes, Progress Reports, Discharge Notes, and communicate with referring doctors or caregivers as needed.

Physical Therapist Assistants complete an Associate's in Applied Science Program. Some schools offer this as a Bachelor's Degree, but it's not a mandatory requirement at this time. There are a few programs in the United States that offer a transition from PTA to DPT, which takes 2 years. If you start as a PTA, you would still need to complete a Bachelor's Degree with the necessary prerequisites before advancing to the 2-3 year Doctorate program.

As a PTA, you'll be able to treat patients after the initial evaluation by the PT. Some insurance companies require that the patient is seen by the PT every 10 visits. You can perform most of the same treatments as the PT, provided it's included in the Plan of Care established by the PT. However, the types of treatments PTAs are allowed to perform can vary from state to state. Some insurance companies will not cover treatments performed by a PTA, and some require a supervising PT to be on site. A PTA can treat patients without a PT on site, as long as a PT is reachable by phone if needed. All these technicalities are thoroughly discussed by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) or each state's chapter of the APTA.

As a practicing PTA, if you walked into an outpatient orthopedic setting and saw me working on a patient next to a PT, you might not notice any difference. I provide hands-on care, I still run patients through and progress exercises with them. I also complete Daily Notes, Progress Notes, and Discharge Notes, but these are reviewed and signed off by a Physical Therapist. Many people ask if I plan to go back to PT school, or if I'm training to be a PT - and the answer is no. It's not a requirement for me.

If you're considering a career in physical therapy, starting as a Physical Therapy Technician could be a great fplace to start. This role allows you to learn about the day-to-day operations in a physical therapy setting and decide if it's the right career for you. While it's not necessary to be a Tech before going to PTA or DPT school, it can strengthen your application by demonstrating your experience and interest in the field. This is an entry-level position that doesn't require previous experience. In this role, you might clean treatment tables and equipment, set up patients with ice/heat/electrical stimulation/ultrasound (that you would learn on the job), or assist PT/PTAs with other patient needs. PTs and PTAs rely on their Techs for support.

Lauren Ellis recommends the following next steps:

Take a look at some nearby clinics and see if you can get a role as a Physical Therapy Technician to see if it interests you and to gain some great experience.
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