Healthcare is big on acronyms, so if you’re confused about the difference between an occupational therapy assistant (OTA career) and a physical therapy assistant (PTA career), you’re not alone. Both degree programs emphasize helping people, but each program has a different focus. You want to make sure you choose the one that fits your personality, talents, and the type of client interaction that you want to have during your career.
To help you make the best choice, be sure you understand the differences between a PTA career and an OTA career, and the scope of the education you’ll need,
A Difference in Therapy Activities
Perhaps you’ve been in physical therapy after an injury and seen how physical rehabilitation works. However, that’s just one dimension that an OTA works in.
“Occupational” therapy is whole-person centered – clients may be facing developmental, emotional, sensory-related, or physical difficulties because of conditions or disorders over which they have no control.
So, an OTA might do some rehabilitative exercise therapy as part of an overall therapy plan, but the goal of occupational therapy is more comprehensive. An OTA’s mission is to enable clients to do activities of daily living most of us don’t even think about.
Some examples of the whole-person therapy involved in an occupational therapy assistant career:
OT Therapy Activities vs. PTA Career Activities
PT professionals seek to restore the body’s ability to have a proper physical function. In PT, you’re solely focused on a person’s range of motion, joint mobility, strength, and flexibility.
If you choose an occupational therapy assistant career, your education will equip you to offer all kinds of help to people of all ages:
What Do OTAs/PTAs Do?
To illustrate the differences, here’s a look at some typical PTA/OTA job duties:
|Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA)||Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA)|
|Assist clients in performing daily living skills and self-care tasks||Address the physical problem, often due to injury|
|Goes beyond physical recovery, including issues that interfere with the enjoyment of life: developmental and cognitive concerns, mental and emotional health, and social interaction skills||Use rehabilitative exercise to recover muscle strength and range of motion|
|Centers on modifications to behaviors and uses assistive strategies and tools, based on each client’s needs||A PTA career focuses on fitness/wellness plans to recover from injuries and resume a desired activity level|
|An OTA might work in a hospital, for a doctor’s practice, a rehab center, for home health agencies, or in assisted living facilities. Because of their varied duties, OTAs must have diverse interpersonal abilities – compassion, patience, active listening, creative problem-solving, etc.||About 72% of PTAs work in hospitals or private physical therapy practices. On a typical day, they concentrate on restoring physical function through exercises, stretching, massage, and gait and balance training.|
Both a physical therapy assistant and an occupational therapy assistant earn a two-year associate degree, usually an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.).
OTAs, like PTAs, do client-focused fieldwork before graduating. OTAs have an intensive, four-to-five month fieldwork experience, mandated by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Trained OTA evaluators supervise OTA students in their work with actual patients, ensuring new OTAs have the skills and knowledge expected by employers.
Just like PTAs, OTAs must pass a national exam. For OTAs, it’s the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Certification, which prepares you to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).
All PTAs must have a state license, and nearly all states now require OTAs to have a state license.
Career Outlook and Compensation
While PTAs and OTAs focus on different aspects of health and wellness, it’s good to know they have a similar pay range. According to surveys from Salary.com, the median salary for an established OTAs is $59,373. The median salary for established PTAs is $55,400.
You’ll find OTAs everywhere, in medical offices, hospitals, social service agencies, schools, and assisted care centers. Because OTAs have a unique skill set, the demand for OTAs is estimated at 31% through 2028. The outlook for those in a PTA career is 27% through 2028.
At CUKC, Take the First Step to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private, healthcare-focused university in Overland Park, Kansas. The two-year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant degree program is fully accredited by the American Council of Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
Our OTA program includes 16 core courses along with four-to-five months of fieldwork experience with clients. Coursework is presented in eight-week segments to immerse students in their class subjects. Our OTA instructors have career experience working as OTAs, and students receive plenty of hands-on training in our simulated living quarters lab.
Starting your college education at CUKC also has an advantage. When you complete all required OTA prerequisite coursework and meet all University considerations, you are guaranteed admission into the OTA degree program.
Students can enroll in spring, summer, or fall of each year.
Request more information today, and be sure to download this free OTA eBook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.