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Physical Therapist vs. Physical Therapist Assistant

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Home » Blog » PT vs. PT Assistant
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Written and reported by:
All Allied Health Schools Staff

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

Physical Therapist Assistant

  • Diagnose and provide care to individuals suffering from injuries
  • Assist patients in exercises and stretches and instruct on how to use devices and equipment
  • Set up a rehabilitation plan for patients
  • Determine the severity of the patient’s injuries and report it to a physical therapist
  • Teach exercises, stretches, and hands-on therapy to help increase the patient’s ability to move
  • Educate patients on what to do after treatments

Education


Physical Therapist

Physical Therapist Assistant

  • 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.
  • 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

Physical Therapist Assistant

  • 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.
  • 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.

Median Annual Salaries

Take a look at how PT and PT Assistant salaries compare, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Physical Therapists

National data

Median Salary: $95,620

Projected job growth: 20.5%

10th Percentile: $61,930

25th Percentile: $77,750

75th Percentile: $101,920

90th Percentile: $127,110

Projected job growth: 20.5%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $99,810 $38,960 $128,450
Alabama $95,450 $59,810 $130,000
Arkansas $93,560 $59,640 $126,600
Arizona $95,590 $72,500 $127,740
California $101,180 $50,230 $135,570
Colorado $93,100 $60,960 $125,670
Connecticut $100,070 $76,660 $129,210
District of Columbia $95,870 $75,710 $127,370
Delaware $97,630 $75,710 $129,450
Florida $95,450 $61,750 $120,750
Georgia $95,590 $71,410 $124,450
Hawaii $95,110 $37,190 $127,160
Iowa $78,930 $60,750 $103,170
Idaho $80,340 $61,990 $102,060
Illinois $97,690 $65,380 $122,370
Indiana $95,390 $62,830 $120,500
Kansas $88,570 $61,080 $120,650
Kentucky $81,850 $59,840 $116,790
Louisiana $95,590 $63,630 $129,270
Massachusetts $96,410 $61,200 $123,620
Maryland $94,960 $62,760 $120,260
Maine $79,170 $61,990 $102,060
Michigan $79,870 $56,680 $102,060
Minnesota $80,130 $72,880 $101,510
Missouri $79,050 $59,830 $108,340
Mississippi $95,770 $73,870 $129,270
Montana $78,950 $61,210 $102,060
North Carolina $79,240 $60,900 $106,980
North Dakota $78,270 $61,350 $100,620
Nebraska $80,990 $61,740 $120,500
New Hampshire $83,700 $61,740 $102,370
New Jersey $99,730 $76,980 $128,330
New Mexico $95,590 $75,220 $130,430
Nevada $99,360 $60,800 $152,420
New York $95,620 $62,270 $121,140
Ohio $95,620 $66,460 $124,380
Oklahoma $79,220 $60,720 $126,210
Oregon $95,040 $73,600 $120,750
Pennsylvania $95,890 $68,430 $121,230
Rhode Island $95,930 $61,990 $121,140
South Carolina $79,830 $49,870 $104,390
South Dakota $78,040 $61,570 $100,920
Tennessee $95,370 $61,990 $106,040
Texas $99,040 $62,240 $136,870
Utah $81,190 $55,660 $127,740
Virginia $94,260 $62,000 $121,780
Vermont $78,320 $61,250 $102,060
Washington $99,330 $76,090 $126,940
Wisconsin $95,480 $61,790 $120,260
West Virginia $96,970 $68,930 $121,200
Wyoming $79,630 $75,320 $126,780

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Physical Therapist Assistants

National data

Median Salary: $61,180

Projected job growth: 35.4%

10th Percentile: $37,280

25th Percentile: $48,670

75th Percentile: $75,870

90th Percentile: $80,170

Projected job growth: 35.4%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $60,360 $29,640 $100,150
Alabama $61,040 $46,210 $79,690
Arkansas $60,960 $28,620 $80,250
Arizona $58,910 $30,740 $79,640
California $76,940 $47,410 $97,630
Colorado $61,280 $38,460 $80,260
Connecticut $66,800 $48,420 $82,370
District of Columbia $48,480 $37,130 $77,240
Delaware $71,730 $29,020 $98,260
Florida $62,270 $45,710 $81,850
Georgia $61,040 $29,640 $83,730
Hawaii $61,560 $47,730 $98,070
Iowa $49,240 $46,500 $63,340
Idaho $47,780 $22,940 $63,080
Illinois $61,740 $37,020 $78,320
Indiana $60,620 $46,240 $78,500
Kansas $59,820 $30,810 $76,740
Kentucky $55,580 $22,770 $77,480
Louisiana $59,930 $23,010 $77,760
Massachusetts $64,980 $58,080 $79,970
Maryland $61,160 $27,100 $80,530
Maine $51,330 $47,230 $62,860
Michigan $49,410 $29,550 $63,050
Minnesota $60,360 $46,380 $63,020
Missouri $58,050 $41,010 $70,280
Mississippi $57,850 $30,100 $77,870
Montana $60,110 $47,040 $63,150
North Carolina $60,720 $47,040 $77,930
North Dakota $48,820 $35,870 $63,360
Nebraska $50,290 $47,040 $64,700
New Hampshire $61,560 $44,600 $77,880
New Jersey $73,750 $60,360 $80,360
New Mexico $59,590 $30,130 $78,070
Nevada $49,250 $23,600 $77,840
New York $61,290 $45,260 $78,240
Ohio $61,560 $47,550 $78,570
Oklahoma $59,930 $23,530 $80,130
Oregon $61,460 $32,150 $79,250
Pennsylvania $57,300 $38,560 $73,990
Rhode Island $68,320 $60,360 $80,690
South Carolina $60,960 $38,510 $81,030
South Dakota $47,980 $37,590 $61,200
Tennessee $61,690 $45,980 $80,130
Texas $71,950 $32,660 $94,820
Utah $61,150 $46,210 $81,640
Virginia $60,730 $24,910 $80,340
Vermont $61,230 $48,460 $78,840
Washington $61,120 $36,600 $78,280
Wisconsin $59,200 $38,550 $64,780
West Virginia $49,180 $38,460 $76,070
Wyoming $49,380 $29,770 $78,580

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Expected Job Growth

Physical Therapists

21%

Physical Therapist Assistants

32%

Through 2030 says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average for all jobs is 8%.

What’s Next?


  • 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.