This content was updated for accuracy and relevance on November 13th, 2023
Are you considering occupational therapy or physical therapy as a career? If so, you’re probably curious about the differences between these two professions.
While similar, these careers are not the same. So, what’s the difference between occupational therapy versus physical therapy?
Don’t know which therapy job is right for you? In order for you to get a better idea, we are going to be answering the question, “What’s the difference between OT and PT?”From average salary to job growth, this comprehensive guide is meant to help you make the right career choice in the future. In this article, we’ll explain their differences in detail so you can choose the career path that’s right for you.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY VS PHYSICAL THERAPY
Before we dive into the difference between occupational vs. physical therapy, let’s take a look at their key differences in job description.
Both occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) provide rehabilitative support to those living with conditions or recovering from illnesses, injuries, or surgeries. However, OT and PT focus on different aspects of rehabilitation in patient care:
- OT – OT helps improve a patient’s ability to perform daily activities and tasks, like dressing, driving, or using a wheelchair. OT treats the whole person, from their fine motor skills to their mental health.
- PT – PT primarily focuses on helping patients improve their mobility and reduce their physical pain. PT specializes in treating a patient’s physical body.
Now that we have discussed the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy, let’s take a deeper look into each of these professions.
WHAT ARE THE SIMILARITIES?
When people think OT vs PT, they often get the two confused and that’s because they both do have some similarities. These similarities include:
- PT and OT have the same goal of helping patients improve their physical function, daily activities, quality of life, and information to maintain your overall health and well-being.
- Patients may be recommended to do both therapies.
- Both therapies provide hands-on care.
- They are both goal-oriented and assess your progress.
- Both educate patients on injury prevention and the healing process.
WHAT IS AN OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST?
An occupational therapist helps patients with their daily life by improving their ability to perform everyday activities and tasks, including:
- Getting in and out of bed
- Bathing and dressing
- Cooking and eating
- Driving or taking public transportation
- Using a wheelchair
- Managing stress levels
- Properly managing pain
- Partaking in work-related activities
Occupational therapists may also modify a patient’s home, work, or school environment to make daily life easier for them. From improving gross motor skills to surpassing physical limitations, a professional working in an occupational therapy career will help their patients with everyday tasks. For example, they might install grab bars and handrails for a person with balance issues or physical impairment.
By refining their fine motor skills, occupational therapists can help improve functional mobility and support rehabilitation. Occupational therapists may also introduce their patients to adaptive OT tools and equipment, like a driving aid or a walker, and teach them how to use it properly in order to work through their daily living physical limitations.
Who Needs Occupational Therapy?
Someone may need the support of an occupational therapist due to:
- Sustaining an injury
- Recovering from surgery
- Living with chronic pain
- Having a developmental condition, like autism or a learning disorder
- Having a psychological condition, like depression, dementia, or Alzheimer’s
- Having a neurological condition, like multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, or a stroke
- Having a joint condition, like arthritis
- Having a hand condition, like carpal tunnel syndrome
With the help of an occupational therapist, patients can learn how to complete their daily tasks on their own or with the use of an assistive device or other adaptive tools with ease. No matter what obstacles they face, an occupational therapist can guide them every step of the way.
What Do Occupational Therapists Do?
The daily tasks of an occupational therapist include:
- Reviewing a patient’s medical history and asking them about their day-to-day challenges
- Observing and assessing a patient’s condition
- Customized treatment plan creation to help them achieve their goals
- Teaching patients how to perform various tasks
- Modifying a patient’s environment to make it easier and safer to navigate
- Helping a patient’s family or employer make appropriate accommodations
- Teaching patients how to use adaptive equipment
- Tracking a patient’s progress and making treatment adjustments as needed
- Completing any relevant paperwork for billing and reporting
These everyday tasks may require an occupational therapist to visit a patient’s home, workplace, or rehabilitative care facility.
Where Can OTs Work?
If you’re considering an occupational therapy career, it’s important to know the variety of locations where you can possibly work. This include, but are not limited to:
- Outpatient clinic or office
- Inpatient facilities (hospitals or nursing homes)
- Mental health facilities
- Home health agencies
Benefits of Becoming an Occupational Therapist
Choosing an occupational therapy careers offers many benefits:
- Flexibility – Occupational therapists enjoy a lot of flexibility. Not only can they set their own hours, but they get to work in a variety of work environments, depending on what they choose to specialize in—environmental modification, mental health, and pediatric occupational therapy are just a few examples.
- Fieldwork – Another benefit of being an occupational therapist is that you get to be active on the job. Forget sitting at a desk all day. This allows you to interact with patients, travel to different locations, and engage in a variety of activities.
- Fulfillment – Occupational therapists are advocates for their patients and make a meaningful impact on their quality of life. This instills the career with purpose, meaning, and a sense of fulfillment. If you become an occupational therapist, you’ll get to watch your patients make progress each day and lead more satisfying lives.
If those benefits sound good to you, all you have to do is complete your occupational therapy education and licensure to start your career as an occupational therapist.
How to Become an Occupational Therapist
To become an occupational therapist, you must:
- Earn your Bachelor’s degree
- Earn your Master’s degree from an accredited Occupational Therapy school
- Pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam
- Apply for your occupational therapist state license
Fortunately, once you’ve developed the required skill set and have completed your occupational therapy program and become a licensed occupational therapist, you can expect great job prospects. Occupational therapists are in high demand. The OT field is projected to grow by 16% between 2019 and 2029.
Now that we’ve covered occupational therapy, let’s review the features of a career in physical therapy.
WHAT IS A PHYSICAL THERAPIST?
Physical therapists are movement experts. They provide treatment for patients with mobility issues or physical pain. You can think of a physical therapist as a mechanic for the body.
The goal of a physical therapist is to:
- Improve their patients’ mobility, muscle strength, and range of motion
- Reduce their patients’ physical pain
- Educate their patients on how to practice mobility exercises at home
Physical therapists treat their patients using a combination of targeted mobility exercises, stretching, massage, and other techniques. With the help of physical therapy, people can heal from injuries faster, soothe their physical pain, and possibly even reduce their reliance on medications.
Who Needs Physical Therapy?
Many people need physical therapy at some point in their life, due to any of the following circumstances:
- Getting injured
- Recovering from a surgery
- Developing chronic physical pain
- Having a joint condition
- Having a neurological condition
- Having a heart condition or experiencing a heart attack
- Having a hand condition
- Having a lung condition, like cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Recovering from cancer
A physical therapist will know how to treat any mobility issues that arise from these conditions. As a result of this type of physical rehabilitation, patients can improve their mobility and relieve pain, enabling them to live better lives.
What Do Physical Therapists Do?
The day-to-day responsibilities of a physical therapist include:
- Looking over a patient’s medical history
- Observing a patient’s mobility and asking them about their goals and challenges
- Creating a personalized treatment plan
- Using various techniques to implement the treatment plan
- Tracking a patient’s progress
- Educating a patient’s family about their treatment
- Completing the necessary paperwork for reporting and billing
If this type of work interests you, make sure to review the physical therapist pros and cons.
Where Can PTs Work?
If you’re considering becoming a PT, it’s important to know the variety of locations where you can work. These in-demand physical therapy settings include, but are not limited to:
- Outpatient clinic or office
- Inpatient facility (hospitals or nursing homes)
- Home health agencies
- Fitness centers
Benefits Of Becoming a Physical Therapist
Many of the benefits of becoming a physical therapist are similar to those of becoming an occupational therapist. Like occupational therapists, physical therapists enjoy a flexible, fulfilling career where they get to be active on the job.
Physical therapists also get to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, assisted living facilities, fitness centers, schools, private practices, and in patients’ homes. They can specialize in several interesting areas. Most importantly, physical therapists get to make a meaningful impact on their patients’ wellbeing.
Like occupational therapists, physical therapists are in high demand. Physical therapy salaries are on the rise and job growth is projected to increase by 18% between 2019 and 2029.
How to Become a Physical Therapist
Becoming a physical therapist is a very similar process to becoming an occupational therapist.
Here are the steps:
- Earn your Bachelor’s degree
- Earn your Master’s degree from an accredited school
- Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
- Apply for your physical therapist state license
Once you’re licensed, you can start working as a physical therapist at the workplace of your choice. Speech therapy is another rewarding career path with very similar benefits and prequalifications. Learn more about how to become a speech therapist on our blog.
OT vs PT: Salary Considerations
Curious about the OT vs. PT salary differences? Most people enter therapeutic professions because they want to help others and make a meaningful impact. However, salary is still an important consideration of any job.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are the average annual salaries for these two occupations:
While the average salary for both professions differ slightly, they both offer outstanding earning potential. Your salary will depend on:
- Where you work
- How many years of experience you have
- What you choose to specialize in
HOW TO CHOOSE BETWEEN OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY AND PHYSICAL THERAPY
As you can see, both OT and PT are rewarding professions that offer freedom, flexibility, and fulfillment.
While they focus on different areas of rehabilitative care, they have a lot of crossover. They also serve similar demographics. Best of all, both occupations are in high demand around the country.
When it comes to occupational vs physical therapy, the right career option for you will depend on your personal preference.
BECOME A TRAVEL THERAPIST WITH HOST HEALTHCARE
Another perk of these two professions is that they enable you to travel. If you’re an aspiring occupational therapist or physical therapist, you can bring your expertise across the country. If this piques your interest, we can help you find a great job in an exciting location. All you have to do is apply to become a traveler with us.
Our goal is to help you find a great job in an exciting location. The length of your stay will be set from the start, so you’ll know exactly how long you get to explore your new city.
To learn more about travel therapy, visit Host Healthcare today.
- National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. NBCOT.https://www.nbcot.org
- American Occupational Therapy Association. How to Get a License. https://www.aota.org/Advocacy-Policy/State-Policy/Licensure/How-To.aspx
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Therapists: Job Outlook.https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm#tab-6
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Physical Therapists: Job Outlook.https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-6
- Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. National Exam (NPTE®). https://www.fsbpt.org/Secondary-Pages/Exam-Candidates/National-Exam-NPTE
- American Physical Therapy Association. Licensure. https://www.apta.org/your-practice/licensure
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Therapists: Pay. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm#tab-5
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Physical Therapists: Pay. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-5