Often, occupations that seem similar vary in significant ways. For example, there’s a big difference between a career in physical therapy (PT) and a career in occupational therapy (OT). There are some common traits between the two, but the difference looms as large as the difference between a “family escape plan” and a “family escape plane.” It’s helpful to know what a (PTA) and an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) do.
So, if you find yourself trying to choose between the OT and PT fields, do the homework that will help you know which job fits your personality, talents, and ambition.
To help you do that, here are some questions and answers that demonstrate the differences between a physical therapy assistant (PTA) and an occupational therapy assistant (OTA). Both OTAs and PTAs do the day-to-day therapy work in their profession.
A. The difference lies in the goal of the therapy. An occupational therapy assistant and a physical therapy assistant work toward goals, but the goals are different. A PTA knows how to help you recover from injuries, regain mobility, or relieve pain. For OTAs, it’s much more – it’s about any of the things that “occupy” your life.
As you’ll learn in an occupational therapy assistant program, the origin of the challenge is developmental, emotional, sensory, mental, or physical. Your goal as an OTA is to carry out a therapy plan to help them achieve their life goals.
A. PT professionals try to help heal or correct physical conditions by increasing or restoring the body’s ability to move and prevent disability. You might go to PT to regain muscle strength in your legs after an accident or injury. When your legs are stronger from PT exercises, you might walk your dog as you once did.
The physical training used in PT focuses on a person’s range of motion, joint mobility, strength, and flexibility.
If you choose to attend an occupational therapy assistant school, you’ll find that your education will include learning about interventions…a term that includes activities or plans for clients to live as they wish or perform basic daily activities.
While someone in PT looks at physical functions, those in OT concentrate on competencies known as ADLs (activities of daily living):
Also, an OTA working with a client would focus on IADLs (instrumental activities of daily living). These activities make a difference in someone’s quality of life:
A. Let’s look at some typical job duties, so you can see how they differ.
|Physical Therapy/PTA||Occupational Therapy/OTA|
|Discover the physical problem,
often due to injury
|Assist clients in performing daily living skills and self-care tasks|
|Use exercises to recover muscle strength and range of motion||Goes beyond physical recovery, including cognitive issues that interfere with the enjoyment of life|
|Centers on fitness/wellness plans to prevent injuries and allow the desired activity level||Centers on modifications to behaviors or environment and the use of adaptive strategies and tools|
A. Yes. Both the physical therapy assistant and the occupational therapy assistant would typically earn a two-year associate degree, usually an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.).
OTAs also undergo a four-to-five month fieldwork experience, mandated by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). This supervised and graded experience helps ensure new OTAs are ready for the workforce.
Just like PTAs, OTAs must pass a national certifying exam. OTA degree programs are designed to meet the skills and knowledge set by the AOTA. An OTA degree program will prepare you for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Certification Examination to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). (See what a Certified OTA does here.)
All PTAs must have a state license, and nearly all states now require OTAs to have a state license.
A. No, they are in the same pay range, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary for established OTAs is more than $60,000. The median wage for established PTAs is $58,040.
Because OTAs have a unique skill set, the demand for OTAs is estimated at more than 30% through 2030. First-year OTA salaries are in the $45,000-$47,000 range.
Typical responsibilities of OTAs tend to have a broader scope than a physical therapy assistant. An OTA must have diverse interpersonal abilities – compassion, creative thinking, active listening, etc. You’ll find OTAs everywhere: medical offices, hospitals, social service agencies, schools, and assisted care centers.
If attending occupational therapy assistant school sounds right for you, know this: an occupational therapy career is life-changing for you and your therapy clients. OTAs love what they do. OTAs in the field today are finding their profession personally satisfying and financially rewarding.
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private chiropractic and health sciences university located in Overland Park, Kansas, a large suburb of Kansas City. The two-year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant degree program at CUKC includes 16 core courses and four-to-five months of fieldwork experience. (Read about Level I and Level II fieldwork here.)
The CUKC 2-year OTA program:
Connect with an admissions advisor today, and be sure to download this free ebook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.