PT or OT? Physical Therapist vs. Occupational Therapist Jobs

Last Updated on March 29, 2024

Comparing Physical Therapist vs Occupational Therapist Careers

April is Occupational Therapy Month! OT Month is a great time to explore some of the biggest questions from people just getting started on their therapy careers. For instance, what should you know before you choose between a physical therapist vs. occupational therapist career? The future is bright for PTs and OTs alike, so discover which of these therapy jobs is the right one for you.

Physical Therapist vs. Occupational Therapist Career Path

Similarities Between OTs & PTs

Even though some of the basic day-to-day duties are the same, physical therapist vs. occupational therapist jobs are quite different overall. True, both of them work to help people recover from illness or injury. In addition, the services they provide can often overlap, with both physical therapists (or PTs, as they’re often called) and occupational therapists (OTs) carrying out some similar tasks.

Many of the patients you treat won’t know the difference, either. To them, it’s all about having someone to guide them through therapy during a difficult time with patience, compassion, and expertise. For most OTs and PTs, the real job is all about helping patients get back to their normal lives.

The confusion from patients is understandable. After all, some of the actual therapy provided by PTs and OTs is even the same. Both work to help people restore their sense of balance and mobility and get back to normal life. (Or as close to it as possible, in the event of permanent disability.) Helping engage and educate those patients and their families is also an expectation for both PTs and OTs.

Differences Between OTs & PTs

What’s the difference, then? While PTs focus on getting people up and around after an injury, while OTs help them with the specific tasks of daily living or doing their jobs (hence, occupational therapy). So, in general, the biggest difference between physical therapist vs. occupational therapist careers is that PTs tend to work on helping people overcome a specific obstacle, while OTs focus more on general independence.

For example, a PT will be the one who helps a person learn to walk again after a serious car accident has left them badly hurt. Meanwhile, an OT would be more involved later on, when it’s time to help that person get back to dressing and bathing themselves every day.

An OT would be also more likely to help someone who’s injured a specific part of their body restore movement. The goal is to get them back to using it normally, whether work, cooking at home, or driving a car to get around.  OTs can also work with people in adjusting their home environments to give them the best chance to recover, or to cope with their current situation.

Physical Therapist vs. Occupational Therapist Careers: Education

In general, both PTs and OTs have the responsibility of helping patients with the exercises and activities they need to recover from injury or illness. Because of that overlap, many of the settings they work in are the same, too. Most jobs for OTs and PTs are in hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehab centers, long-term care (LTC) and skilled nursing facilities. Physical therapists also frequently work in dedicated PT centers.  

As far as education, occupational therapists generally need to have a graduate degree like a Master of Science or a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. Physical therapists, on the other hand, must have a Doctorate — a Master’s is not an option. Needless to say, this could be a big factor when deciding between a physical therapist and occupational therapist career!

But if you are considering a career in physical therapist vs. occupational therapist, bear in mind that you can enter either one as an assistant, too. Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) and physical therapy assistants (PTAs) must still be certified. However, they’re usually only required to have an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree.

Because the basic care they provide is the same, but the level of responsibility is not, OTA and PTA jobs can also be a smart starting point for a therapy career. But remember, many people find a career as an OTA or PTA to also be very rewarding in and of itself. Plus, there’s definitely demand for both in the job market.

Pay and Demand for OTs vs. PTs

Physical therapist vs. occupational therapist jobs? Whichever choice you make, you can count on a bright future! The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) pins the average OT salary at $85,570 per year, and predicts employment to grow by 14% between 2021 and 2031, “much faster than the average for all occupations.” For PTs, the prospects are even better. PTs have a predicted growth of 17% and average earnings of $95,620 per year (again, per BLS estimates).

Get Started: OT and PT Jobs Nationwide

The decision between physical therapist and occupational therapist careers is a big one, so make sure to do your research! Don’t be afraid to talk to a specialized recruiter to get a better idea of what to expect from a PT or OT career. If that’s the kind of career guidance you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place!

At CareerStaff, we’re proud to be the source for great jobs and valuable career guidance for therapists of all types, from PT to OT. Search local, travel, and per diem therapy jobs nationwide today, or quick apply below to get started on your career journey now.

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