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Physical Therapist vs. Physical Therapist Assistant

physical therapist helping patient with leg problem
Home » Blog » PT vs. PT Assistant

Written and reported by:
All Allied Health Schools Staff

Contributing writer

Physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) perform many of the same basic responsibilities such as assisting patients in stretches and exercises, but some key characteristics set them apart.

PTs are mainly concerned with diagnosing patients and developing a rehabilitation program that is tailored to the patient’s prognosis. PTAs on the other hand have more focus on preparing patients to be diagnosed and assisting in executing the rehabilitation plan.

The Key Differences

Here’s a breakdown of those and other key differences in these lucrative and rapidly expanding careers in physical therapy:

Job Duties

Physical Therapist

  • Diagnose and provide care to individuals suffering from injuries
  • Set up a rehabilitation plan for patients
  • Teach exercises, stretches, and hands-on therapy to help increase the patient’s ability to move

Physical Therapist Assistant

  • Determine the severity of the patient’s injuries and report it to a physical therapist
  • Assist patients in exercises and stretches
  • Educate patients on what to do after treatments
  • Instruct patients on how to use devices and equipment


Physical Therapist

  • Postgraduate professional degrees are required. Many receive a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), which typically requires 3 years of schooling after a bachelor’s degree. DPT degrees usually require prerequisites such as anatomy, biology, physiology, and chemistry.

Physical Therapist Assistant

  • Most states require an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapy program. Programs usually involve academic coursework along with clinical experience.

Licensing and Certification

Physical Therapist

  • Every state requires a physical therapist license. To earn a license, the National Physical Therapy Examination or a state-administered exam must be passed. Many states also require continuing education in order to maintain licensure. Some physical therapists choose to become certified in a particular clinical specialty and do so by passing an exam.

Physical Therapist Assistant

  • To obtain a physical therapist assistant license most states require that you graduate from an accredited physical therapy assistant program and have passed the Physical National Physical Therapy Exam. Some states additionally require a state-administered exam.

Average Annual Salary

Physical Therapist

  • $90,170 per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, 2019

Physical Therapist Assistant

  • $58,520 per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, 2019

Expected Job Growth

Physical Therapists


Physical Therapist Assistants


Through 2029 says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average for all jobs is 4%.

Next Steps

Physical Therapist

  • After gaining experience in the field, physical therapists have the option of specializing and becoming certified in an area of interest.

Physical Therapist Assistant

  • Many continue formal education to move into management, education, or administration positions.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics; Physical Therapy AssistantsPhysical Therapists.

The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.