The Difference Between Physical Therapists and Therapist Assistants
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What Is The Difference Between Physical Therapists and Physical Therapist Assistants

A major development in the modern American healthcare sector has been a growing emphasis on the effective rehabilitation of patients, both during and after a period of hospitalization.

A component of this process is the effective use of physical therapy to both recover from the medical condition and ensure the improvement in the overall health of the patient.

Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants are a vital component of this process and as such are an increasingly promising field for those interested in a career in healthcare.

The Purpose of Physical Therapy


Physical therapy is a variety of techniques used to help the patient recover their full physical abilities after an accident or illness or maintain them in the face of a degenerative disease or condition.

In addition to being used for those purposes, many elderly individuals receive physical therapy as a method of helping to maintain their physical and mental fitness, especially if they are residents of a convalescent home.

Additionally, physical therapy can be very important for those individuals who have been bedridden for a long period of time.

Due to the lack of exercise or movement, a formerly bedridden individual may need a period of physical therapy in order to regain their former physical abilities. This can be especially important for older individuals or those with chronic medical problems.

Physical Therapists and Therapist Assistants

Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants are both trained health professionals involved in providing physical therapy to their patients. By working with the overall medical staff involved with the individual’s treatment, they develop and implement the therapy plan that can most effectively assist the patient.

By working with the overall medical staff involved with the individual’s treatment, they develop and implement the therapy plan that can most effectively assist the patient.

Physical Therapists

A physical therapist is a professional healthcare worker who determines the patient’s physical therapy needs, develops an effective course of treatment and then oversees the treatment as it is administered by the therapist and other healthcare providers.

In general, the physical therapist’s duties include the following:

  • Diagnosing the patient’s physical requirements by observing and interviewing them, while also analyzing the results of various types of medical tests.
  • In cooperation with the other supervising medical professionals, develop a therapy plan to address the patient’s needs.
  • Using a variety of methods to assist the patient in recovering their physical capabilities.
  • Evaluating the patient’s progress over the course of the treatment. This can include modifying the treatment in order to obtain better results.
  • The physical therapist will be involved in educating the patient and any at-home caregivers about the nature of the therapy. This will also include what types of home therapy may be required and education in how best to provide it.
  • The physical therapist will also develop a course of physical therapy to assist the patient after he or she is discharged from the hospital. This may include both physical therapy performed by the individual as well as in-home visits by a healthcare worker to assist the patient with his or her work.
  • Finally, the physical therapist may continue to evaluate the patient’s progress, which may include in-home and clinical evaluation meetings.

Becoming a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists must complete a post-graduate course of study, usually obtaining either a doctorate or master’s degree in physical therapy.

Additionally, all states require that practicing physical therapists be licensed, which requires the passage of a professional exam and registration with the state.

Finally, some physical therapists may choose to become certified in an individual specialty, which requires additional education, experience and passing a certification exam for the specialty.

Physical Therapist Assistant

A physical therapist assistant is a medical professional who works with physical therapists in implementing a course of treatment.

In many cases, they work directly with patients, physical therapy aides, and other individuals in ensuring that the therapy is effectively performed. Unlike physical therapists, a physical therapist assistant does not require post-graduate work and most physical therapy programs award an associate’s degree.

The duties of a physical therapist assistant include the following activities:

  • The physical therapy assistant will observe the patient and report his or her findings to the physical therapist to assist the therapist in evaluating the patient’s progress.
  • The physical therapist assistant will help instruct the patient in how to carry out the therapy, as well as providing physical assistance to the patient when needed. In some cases, this may require the physical therapist assistant to partially or completely support the patient’s weight.
  • In cooperation with the physical therapist, the therapist assistant will help train the patient and any caregivers in the safe and effective use of the various types of equipment utilized in the physical therapy.
  • The physical therapist assistant will take part in in-home therapy meetings to assist the patient and their caregivers, in addition to evaluating the progress the patient is making. This information will be used by the supervising physical therapist when determining if any alterations to the therapy will be needed.

Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant

Most physical therapist assistants complete an associate’s degree program at a community college or vocational school, although some have completed a four-year degree program.

Most states require that the physical therapist assistant pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and some states also require that the candidate pass a state jurisprudence exam.

In some cases, physical therapist assistants intending to become specialists must obtain extra education and pass additional examinations.

Career Prospects for Physical Therapists and Physical Therapist Assistants

Both of these fields are currently very promising for new members. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), both fields are currently increasing at an above average rate.

Furthermore, their median annual wages are competitive with other fields that require similar levels of education and experience.

With the rise in the importance of physical therapy as a component of America’s healthcare sector, it is likely that both of these fields will continue to enjoy excellent growth for the foreseeable future.

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