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What is the difference between a physical therapist and a physical therapy assistant?

What is the difference between a physical therapist and a physical therapy assistant?

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Soch’s Answer

I would give some push back as a PTA myself in regards to pay, our pay range is actually very close to a PTs $54k-110k+ based off of skillset and experience. I would say we are limited only to what our supervising PTs are specialized/certified in. An example is I am unable to treat a patient with Parkinson's with LSVT BIG if I did not have a PT who has that certification in my clinic as well. Our other limitations include no evaluations, dry needling or manipulations, per laws and regulations but those aren't necessarily things that are NEEDED except for evaluations of course and I have gotten patients back to their live without those techniques. Overall I would say PTAs are very capable and we are very skilled but we are not taught how to rule out diagnosis/evaluate. I can also say that we have pretty good autonomy for the most part but I also understand that there are certain private clinics that run a more limited model that would make me feel that I am unable to grow. I highly recommend this career but just be ready to study and forever learn!
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Sarah’s Answer

To start, education required is a big difference. A Doctor of Physical Therapy degree is a 4 years undergraduate degree followed by a three year doctorate degree. A Physical Therapist Assistant degree is a 2 year associates degree from an accredited PTA program.
A DPT is a practitioner treating their own caseload where a PTA cannot practice without a DPT present or on staff.
Insurance reimburses differently to each profession as well meaning DPTs get paid more because of their ability to bill different codes. Pay varies per geographic location for each PT and PTAs.
The DPT degree is expensive and typically costs >$100K in student loans where a PTA degree is usually much more affordable.
A DPT can make anywhere from $60k-$100+ depending on location. A PTA can make anywhere from $30K-~50K depending on location and experience.
A PTA is a great option for getting a well paid job with an associates degree.
Thank you comment icon I am really grateful you took the time to answer this question. Maritza
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Beth’s Answer

Sarah and Dalphne’s answers are great! I would add the the PT assistants tend to work in places where the patients stay for a while like nursing homes, rehab centers, home care and outpatient clinics. Physical therapists also work in these places and do the assessment and treatment plan for the assistant to follow. Physical therapists also work in fast paced places like hospitals were you may only see the patient 1-2 times and help assure they can go home safely, OT help decide what is next.
Physical therapy is a great field whether you work as an assistant or a PT, good luck!

Beth recommends the following next steps:

Visit APTA.org for more information
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for the advice. Maritza
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Dalphne’s Answer

Physical Therapist attend university to receive advanced degree. Physical Therapist are able to complete evaluations and treat patients. Physical Therapist Assistants are not able to evaluate. They are allowed to treat after the Physical Therapist creates the treatment plan. Physical Therapist Assistants also typically may not have advanced degrees, most likely an associate degree. They are supervised by Physical Therapists.
Thank you comment icon Thank Ms. Ray for answering my question. Maritza
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Margie’s Answer

Hi Maritza,
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.

PTA salary - https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312021.htm
PT salary - https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm

More info about PTA - https://www.apta.org/your-career/careers-in-physical-therapy/becoming-a-pta
More info about PT - https://www.apta.org/your-career/careers-in-physical-therapy/becoming-a-pt
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