Learn the similarities and differences between an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) and a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)
OTA versus PTA are both three-letter abbreviations, and only the first letter is different. It’s no wonder these two jobs are often confused with one another. We’ll set you straight on the differences between OTA and PTA careers.
For starters, OTA stands for Occupational Therapy Assistant, while PTA is short for Physical Therapist Assistant. Both are quickly growing medical careers helping patients recover from illness or injury. And both appear on our list of the Best Entry-Level Medical Jobs. Not surprisingly, there are many similarities between these two jobs. That’s just one more reason why they are often confused.
This career guide will explain the details of both therapy careers, how they are similar, and how they are unique. After reading, you’ll have a good understanding to tell these jobs apart—and you may even be interested in exploring a career in one of these in-demand fields.
OTA vs. PTA: Definition
What is an OTA?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Therapy Assistants help patients develop, recover, improve, and maintain the skills they need for daily living and working. Your patients might include those with birth defects, autism, spina bifida, or those who have suffered a stroke. This type of therapy is focused on helping patients to remain independent and be able to perform the activities required by their occupation. OTAs work under the direction of Occupational Therapists.
What is a PTA?
The BLS has a similar definition for PTAs, yet the primary focus is different. Physical Therapist Assistants help patients who are recovering from injuries or illnesses in order to regain movement and manage pain. This type of therapy also has the goal of getting patients back to performing full activities, though the type of patient issues may differ. Your patients may be healing from a knee injury, managing back pain, or preparing to return to sports participation. PTAs work under the direction of Physical Therapists.
OTA vs. PTA: Duties & Responsibilities
What does an OTA do? They work directly with Occupational Therapists to develop and carry out treatment plans for each patient. This plan might include educating, stretching, and teaching patients how to be more independent.
The BLS reports that typical daily OTAs duties include:
- Helping patients do therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises
- Leading children who have developmental disabilities in play activities that promote coordination and socialization
- Encouraging patients to complete activities and tasks
- Teaching patients how to use special equipment—for example, showing a patient with Parkinson’s disease how to use devices that make eating easier
- Recording patients’ progress, reporting, and doing other administrative tasks
What does a PTA do? Under the direction and supervision of Physical Therapists, they help patients recover from injury or illness through exercise, massage, balance training, and other therapeutic interventions.
The BLS list typical PTA duties like:
- Observe patients before, during, and after therapy, noting the patient’s status and reporting it to a physical therapist
- Help patients do specific exercises as part of the plan of care
- Treat patients using a variety of techniques, such as massage and stretching
- Use devices and equipment, such as walkers, to help patients
- Educate patients and family members about what to do after treatment
OTA vs. PTA: Education
OTA Educational Requirements
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) outlines that the first step to obtaining a license as an OTA is to graduate from an ACOTE-accredited OTA educational program. Typically, this means earning an associate degree in a two-year program and studying subjects like anatomy, psychology, and pediatric health. Additionally, you’ll need to complete about 16 weeks of fieldwork.
Once completing a program, graduates must apply for and pass the NBCOT® certification exam. This OTA certification will allow you to work in the field. Each state may require additional steps before gaining licensure and starting to work.
PTA Educational Requirements
An associate degree from an accredited program (CAPTE) is also required for those seeking to become a PTA. These programs take about two years to complete, and coursework usually includes subjects like anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology. About 25 percent of your program will be clinical work outside the classroom.
Once you graduate, the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE®) is the exam you must pass to become a licensed PTA. The NPTE is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). Your state board may require additional licensing steps.
OTA vs. PTA: Salary
How Much Do OTAs Make?
In its most recent data from May of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average OTA salary* nationwide was about $64,000. The highest 10 percent of OTAs make over $80,000 per year. The five top-paying states for OTAs average between $71,930 and $78,100. Nevada holds the top position for average salary. These salary* ranges translate to an hourly rate of between $34.58 and $37.55 per hour.
How Much Do PTAs Make?
The BLS reports that the current average PTA salary* is about $61,000. Like their counterpart, the highest 10 percent of PTAs make over $80,000 annually. The five top-paying states for PTAs average between $68,390 and $73,150, with California leading the way. These salary* ranges translate to an hourly rate of between $32.88 and $35.17 per hour.
OTA vs. PTA: Job Outlook
OTA Job Outlook
The demand for OTAs over the next decade is projected to grow at 25 percent, much faster than the average growth of all occupations. Much of this demand will be created by the need to replace workers who move to other occupations or retire.
PTA Job Outlook
Also projected to be very strong, the job growth for PTAs over the next ten years is expected to grow at 24 percent. It’s anticipated that about 25,500 new openings for Physical Therapist Assistants and aids will occur each year. Much of that growth will also come from those exiting the workforce.
The Pros & Cons of Becoming an OTA vs. PTA
Both careers offer great salaries and a very favorable job outlook. The differences will appear in some of the daily work that OTAs and PTAs perform. Your preference for the type of work may tip the scales one way or the other as you weigh the pros and cons of each career.
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OTA vs. PTA: Which Career is Best for You?
Whether you pursue a career as an OTA or a PTA may come down to your personal preferences on which type of therapy work most interests you. Both professions are equally rewarding.
You can learn more about our Occupational Therapy Assistant program if you feel more rewarded for helping people regain their ability to care for themselves and improve their fine motor or cognitive skills.
Or, if you enjoy helping patients recover from common injuries, managing pain, and extending their endurance and range of motion, be sure to read about our Physical Therapist Assistant program.
Take the time now to consider the type of therapy career you may be most interested in for the long term. This will help you make the best decision for your career.