If you receive physical therapy, you’ll likely interact with some combination of physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs). Though both crucial providers on a rehab team, their training, scope of practice and roles do differ. Let’s look at the DPT & PTA.
Most PTs today have a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), requiring 7+ years of school after high school: 4 years for a bachelor’s degree followed by 3 years at an accredited graduate DPT program.
PTAs complete an associate’s degree at accredited PTA programs, typically taking 2 years. Some candidates already holding a bachelor’s degree still pursue the PTA coursework to transition careers.
Importantly, both PTs and PTAs have to pass national licensing exams before treating patients.
In the clinic, you’ll observe PTs and PTAs performing similar day-to-day work like leading exercise sessions, using hands-on techniques, taking measurements, and documenting visits.
However, PTs and PTAs differ in aspects of care they can perform independently:
- PTs conduct initial and discharge evaluations, determine full treatment plans, discharge patients and utilize advanced skills like dry needling.
- PTAs contribute insights, but deliver interventions under a PT’s direction and within their competency boundaries.
Both PTs and PTAs can pursue advanced certifications throughout their careers. PTs gain recognition in specialty areas like neurologic, geriatric or sports rehab. PTAs attain “Advanced Proficiency” status in niches like wound care with advanced applied expertise. These specialties are as follows:
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
- Clinical electrophysiology
- Women’s Health
- Wound Management
PTAs also can progress in their careers. One such way is through the Advanced Proficiency for the Physical Therapist Assistant program. This program was launched in 2004 to recognize PTAs who achieved advanced proficiency in the areas of cardiovascular and pulmonary, education, oncology, acute care, wound management, geriatric, integumentary, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and pediatric physical therapy.
Written by Colin Fulton, PTA