Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) undoubtedly serve a much broader role than merely assisting physical therapists (PTs).
Being a PTA can be the ideal career path for healthcare experts who are looking to advance their career in physical therap with clinical practice, educating patients, diagnosing injuries, and curating patient treatment plans.
So, if you are a PTA who is inclined to learn the problem-solving aspects of the physical therapy field, a potential career as a physical therapist might be more suitable for you.
The difference between a PT and a PTA
Education and Training
One of the primary differences between a physical therapist and a physical therapy assistant is their education and training. A physical therapist typically holds a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which requires completing an undergraduate program followed by a three-year professional DPT program.
This extensive education equips them with the skills to evaluate, diagnose, and design treatment plans for patients. On the other hand, a physical therapy assistant usually earns an associate degree from an accredited PTA program, which lasts about two years. Their training is focused more on implementing treatment plans rather than designing them.
Scope of Practice
The roles and responsibilities of PTs and PTAs also differ significantly. Physical therapists are responsible for evaluating a patient’s condition, diagnosing movement dysfunctions, creating treatment plans, and modifying those plans based on a patient’s progress and response. They can also provide specialized therapeutic interventions and consult with other healthcare professionals.
Physical therapy assistants, under the direction and supervision of the PT, help carry out the treatment plans. They perform exercises, administer modalities like heat or cold, and instruct patients on home exercise programs. While they play a crucial role in the delivery of therapeutic services, they do not independently evaluate or create treatment strategies.
Professional Autonomy and Decision-making
PTs have a higher degree of professional autonomy compared to PTAs. Since PTs are qualified to diagnose conditions and formulate treatment plans, they are often the primary point of contact for patients and play a decisive role in the direction of care. PTAs, while skilled and crucial for therapeutic outcomes, work under the direction of a PT. Their role involves ensuring that the treatment is executed effectively, providing feedback to the PT about the patient’s progress, and suggesting potential modifications. However, ultimate clinical decision-making rests with the physical therapist.
Pros of becoming a Physical Therapist
Both PTs and PTAs have their distinct advantages. The choice between the two largely depends on an individual’s career goals, desired level of responsibility, and preference for length and type of education.
Higher Earning Potential
Due to their assistant role, PTAs generally earn less than physical therapists. PTs generally earn a higher salary due to their advanced education and responsibilities.
PTs have the authority to diagnose and formulate treatment plans, providing them with a significant degree of independence in patient care.
Physical therapy assistants have limited avenues for specialized roles. With a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, PTs have the opportunity to specialize in various areas like pediatrics, orthopedics, neurology, and sports therapy, among many others.
Increased Career Opportunities
PTs can venture into research, academia, private practice, or even administrative roles in healthcare settings.
Being at the forefront of patient care, PTs often experience deeper satisfaction as they witness patients’ recovery and progress.
Less Dependency on Others
The work of PTAs is dependent on the decisions and treatment plans of physical therapists, which can be limiting. As a physical therapist, you get to curate specified treatment plans for your patients without relying on or working under the supervision of someone else.
Chart Your Path to Becoming a Physical Therapist
Embarking on a journey from a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) to a Physical Therapist (PT) is both commendable and rewarding. The leap not only signifies a move towards increased professional responsibilities but also offers a deeper understanding of patient care in the realm of physical therapy. Transitioning from a PTA to a PT is undeniably demanding, but with dedication, passion, and the right steps, it’s a journey well worth the effort. Embrace the challenges, cherish the learnings, and look forward to making a more profound impact in the lives of those seeking physical healing and wellness. If you’re a PTA with aspirations of becoming a PT, here are the crucial steps to guide you on this transformative and educational journey.
Research and Choose the Right Educational Path
PTs require a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, so you’ll need to enroll in an accredited program. Given that you already have a foundation from your PTA training, some programs might offer advanced placements or credits. However, before that, ensure you have a relevant bachelor’s degree, as it’s a prerequisite for most DPT programs. If you don’t, consider bridge programs designed specifically for PTAs to transition to PT roles, combining undergraduate and doctoral studies.
Fulfill Prerequisite Courses
Apart from a bachelor’s degree, DPT programs often require specific prerequisite courses, ranging from anatomy and physiology to psychology. As a PTA, you may have already completed some, but ensure you’ve covered them all. These courses provide the foundational knowledge crucial for your DPT studies.
Gain Varied Clinical Experience
While your PTA role provides valuable experience, diversifying your exposure can make your application stand out. Volunteer or work in different physical therapy settings, like sports rehab clinics, pediatric units, or geriatric centers, to get a holistic view of the field.
Ace the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
Most DPT programs require GRE scores as part of their admission process. Invest time in preparation, using study guides, courses, or tutoring to ensure a competitive score.
Compile a Stellar Application
Beyond GRE scores and GPAs, DPT programs look for well-rounded individuals. Highlight your experience as a PTA, showcase any leadership roles, and provide strong letters of recommendation, preferably from PTs you’ve worked with.
Navigate the DPT Program
Once admitted, stay committed. DPT programs are rigorous, often lasting three years, blending academic coursework with clinical rotations. Engage actively, build a network with professionals, and absorb as much as you can.
Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)
Upon graduation, you’ll need to pass the NPTE to practice as a licensed PT. Your DPT program will prepare you for this, but consider additional study materials and practice exams to ensure success.
Engage in Continued Learning
The world of physical therapy is ever-evolving. Even after securing your PT license, commit to lifelong learning. Attend workshops, pursue certifications, and stay updated with the latest research and techniques.
Add Travel Therapist to Your Resume
Whether you’re a physical therapy assistant or a physical therapist, one thing’s for sure. Having travel experience enhances your resume and sets you up for long-term career growth and success. Not to mention the exposure to different PT settings, building a professional network of fellow practicing PTs, and great pay! We offer travel physical therapist and travel physical therapy assistant contracts in all 50 states in a variety of settings. Plus, at Marvel Medical Staffing we’re new grad friendly!
Career building and adventure opportunities all in one.
If these benefits make you want to pack up and hit the road, then we are ready to help you take the leap!