Though they may work in the same environment, there is a difference between physical therapist aides and physical therapist assistants. You can examine the duties and education requirements to see which one might fit with your career plans.
Physical therapist technicians are more commonly known as physical therapist assistants (PTAs) or physical therapist aides. They help therapists in the treatment and diagnosis of people with medical conditions and functionally limiting injuries. Training programs for both aides and assistants are available, although PTA programs are more common and offer more advanced training. Aide programs may lead to a certificate, although on-the-job training is more typical for this position than formal education. PTA programs lead to an associate's degree. Licensure is also required for PTAs.
|Career Titles||Physical Therapist Aide||Physical Therapist Assistant|
|Required Education||High school diploma or GED||Associate's degree|
|Other Requirements||On-the-job training||N/A|
|Licensure||N/A||Required in all states|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)*||23%||27%|
|Median Salary (2018)*||$26,240||$58,040|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Both physical therapist aides and assistants focus on helping the physical therapist treat patients. The scope of their duties varies, however.
Physical Therapist Aide
Aides assist physical therapists in the examination of patients by conducting surveys and running tests. They may also be required to set up the equipment in treatment procedures, and they may help patients move from room to room in the clinic. Aides typically have more administrative duties than PTAs, such as scheduling appointments for patients and answering phone calls.
According to 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of physical therapist aides is predicted to increase by 23% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the national average. These workers earned a median salary of $26,240 as of May 2018.
Physical Therapist Assistant
Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) have more of a hands-on role with patients. They generally work with clients who have mobility problems, sprains, strains, fractures, amputation, arthritis and sports or work-related injuries. They assist patients in performing exercises prescribed by the physical therapist, and they work with the patient's family to understand the treatment plan. PTAs may also be tasked to help PTs develop fitness and diet plans for patients.
The BLS projects a similar employment outlook for PTAs; these workers are predicted to see an increase in employment of 27% from 2018-2028. The median salary of PTAs was $58,040 in 2018.
Physical therapist aides generally don't require formal education and often receive on-the-job training. Though uncommon, physical therapist aide certificate programs are available through some community colleges and hospitals. These programs typically provide basic health science and patient care skills as well as an internship at a site that may hire graduates.
A position as a physical therapist assistant typically requires an associate's degree as well as national licensure. Training programs for PTAs are designed to prepare workers to assist in patient treatment under the direct supervision of a licensed PT.
Training programs for physical therapist technicians cover such science topics as biology, physiology, anatomy, cellular histology, neuroscience, exercise physiology, biomechanics, pathology and pharmacology. They also generally cover behavioral science topics such as clinical reasoning and evidence-based practice.
PTA associate's degree programs typically involve general education courses in addition to classroom, lab and clinical training components. Examples of the types of advance courses topics that may be covered in a physical therapist assistant program include:
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Neurophysiology and Motor Learning
- Therapeutic Procedures
Continuing Education Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that aspiring physical therapist assistants may advance their education by acquiring a post-baccalaureate credential from accredited universities. Professional PTAs planning to become licensed physical therapists first need to earn bachelor's degrees, then receive training through graduate physical therapy programs. Typically these programs require volunteer or internship experience in a physical therapy department or clinic prior for admission.
Students in a physical therapy graduate program learn to perform examinations, take measurements, carry out diagnostic procedures, manage practices and execute therapeutic interventions. Master's degree programs in physical therapy may last up to two and a half years and doctoral programs typically take three years.
In summary, physical therapist technicians fall into two categories: physical therapist assistant and physical therapist aide. PTAs need an associate's degree earned through one of 300 accredited programs and must be licensed or certified by the Federation of State Boards of Physical therapy. Aides just need the equivalent of a high school diploma and some on-the-job training.