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) does.
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.
Q. “I’ve seen OTAs demonstrating exercises. Isn’t that the same as a what a physical therapy assistant would do?”
A. The difference lies in the goal of the therapy. It’s true that an occupational therapy assistant and a physical therapy assistant both 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.
Q. “OTAs talk about therapy interventions. PT talks about therapy actions. How is that different?”
A. PT professionals try to help heal or correct physical conditions by increasing or restoring the body’s ability to move and to 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 things such as 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 also focus on IADLs (instrumental activities of daily living). These activities make a difference in someone’s quality of life:
Q. “What are some differences in PT/OT therapy?”
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 a desired activity level||Centers on modifications to behaviors or environment and the use of adaptive strategies and tools|
Q. “I know someone who became a physical therapy assistant (PTA) through a two-year degree program. Does becoming an OTA work the same way?”
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 is a supervised and graded experience that 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).
All PTAs must have a state license, and nearly all states now require OTAs to have a state license.
Q. “I understand OT and PT roles are different, so are the career and salary expectations different?”
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 salary for established PTAs is $58,040.
Because OTAs have a unique skill set, the demand for OTAs is estimated at more than 32% through 2028. First-year OTA salaries are in the $45,000 range.
Typical responsibilities of OTAs tend to have a wider scope than a physical therapy assistant. An OTA must have diverse interpersonal abilities – compassion, creative thinking, active listening, etc. You’ll find OTAs everywhere, in medical offices, hospitals, social service agencies, schools, and assisted care centers.
A.A.S. Degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant
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 and professionally and financially rewarding for you.
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private, healthcare-focused university located in Overland Park, Kansas. The two-year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant Degree Program at CUKC includes 16 core courses along with four-to-five months of fieldwork experience. Coursework is presented in eight-week segments to immerse students in their class subjects.
At Cleveland University-Kansas City, the OTA program classes start in spring, summer, and fall each year. Students who complete all required prerequisite coursework at CUKC are guaranteed admission into the OTA degree program, provided that all criteria for the OTA program are met, and all other considerations are satisfactory.
Connect with an advisor today, or download this free ebook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.