Today, 2.4 billion people need rehabilitation care worldwide, with this figure expected to rise by 400 million by 2030.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy are two common types of rehabilitative care that help people get back or improve skills and functioning of their daily living that were lost or impaired due to sickness, injury, or disability.
Although similarities exist between the two therapies, there are also significant differences.
What Is the Difference Between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy?
Physical therapy or PT is a type of rehabilitative care that focuses on helping improve a patient’s movements, mobility, and function. A physical therapist employs various exercises, stretches, and other physical activities to help patients regain their mobility and function.
For example, a patient who had a knee replacement surgery may need to visit a physical therapist as part of their recovery program. The therapist works with the patients to help strengthen their knees and improve their range of motion.
Occupational therapy or OT is a type of rehabilitative care focusing on helping patients undertake their tasks more easily. The care aims to improve a patient’s fine and gross motor skills to efficiently carry out specific day-to-day activities.
For example, an occupational therapist will work with a patient recovering from a stroke by helping them relearn how to carry out daily tasks like eating, using the bathroom, and dressing. An occupational therapist also ensures your home or school environment is more optimal for a speedy recovery. They may carry out changes in the patient’s home, such as installing grab bars in the bathroom.
OT vs. PT Career Differences
If you are considering a career as a rehabilitative care practitioner, it is important to understand the roles and responsibilities of OT and PT therapists, as well as the required skills and education.
OT Job Duties
The critical job responsibilities of an OT practitioner include:
- Support patient with memory loss and other cognitive issues
- Recommend adaptive equipment that helps patients in their recovery path
- Advise contractors and architects about a patient’s accessibility needs
- Help patients perform daily occupational and living skills and self-care tasks, including dressing
PT Job Duties
Some of the specific duties of a PT practitioner include:
- Diagnose a physical issue that is restricting a patient’s movement due to an injury or a condition
- Employ the right exercises and other techniques to boost patients mobility and strengthen their muscle to ease pain and improve their comfort
- Create fitness and wellness programs that encourage a more active lifestyle while preventing injuries
OT vs. PT Education Requirements
PT Education Requirements
To practice as a physical therapist, you may need a doctorate degree that typically takes three years to complete. In the US, physical therapists must also be licensed to practice, which means you have to sit for the National Physical Therapist Examination.
OT Educational Requirements
To practice as an occupational therapist, you need at least a master’s degree that typically takes two years and a practicing license. Entry-level occupational therapy positions require a doctorate by 2025. Ideally, the OT licensing requirements vary from one state to another. However, the typical requirements include graduation from an accredited occupational therapy school, passing a national certification exam, and meeting fieldwork requirements.
Occupational Therapy Career Path
There are at least two main types of practitioners in the occupational therapy field: occupational therapist (OT) and occupational therapy assistant (OTA). Notably, responsibilities, salaries, and educational and licensing requirements differ between the two roles.
Occupational Therapy Assistant
If you don’t want to spend a long time in school or are uncertain about an OT career, becoming an occupational therapy assistant could be an excellent alternative. Occupational therapist assistant works under an OT’s supervision, and their duties come with less responsibility than an occupational therapist’s.
As an OT assistant, it is your responsibility to make sure patients correctly perform activities according to their treatment plans.
To become an OTA, you need an associate degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program (ACOTE) at a community college or technical school. You will need two years to complete this education. Afterwards, you may need to sit for an exam administered by the NBCOT if you intend to practice in a state requiring OTAs to be licensed.
Pre-occupational therapy is a means to enter the occupational therapy field, find rewarding work and gain valuable experience. In essence, pre-occupational therapy acts as the stepping stone to becoming an occupational therapist.
Ideally, in the same way, an aspiring physician begins with a pre-med degree, you also need to earn a pre-occupational therapy bachelor’s degree from ACOTE accredited program before you earn your masters and become an occupational therapist.
The occupational therapist is the OT team leader and has the most significant responsibilities. After assessing the patient’s needs, the OT sets goals and develops a treatment plan. Because they bear a higher level of responsibility, occupational therapists need a doctorate degree in the program accredited by the ACCOTE-Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.
If you want to become an OT, you should spend four years in college and two to three years in graduate school. After graduating, you will have to pass an exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
Physical Therapy Career Path
There are two main occupations in the physical therapy field:
Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA)
A physical therapist assistant treats patients under the supervision of a Physical Therapist. This role typically comes with fewer responsibilities and doesn’t require extensive education. However, you will need an associate degree from an approved physical therapist assistant program to become a PT assistant. You must also get a license from the state in which you want to work, which means that you will take and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for physical therapist assistants.
Physical Therapist (PT)
A physical therapist is the senior-most PT practitioner and the leader of the PT team. They develop treatment plans and oversee their implementation to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved. To become a PT, you need an accredited bachelor’s degree and a doctor of physical therapy degree. You must also obtain pass credits in the National Physical Therapy Examination before getting a practice license.