This is the second article in the series “Should I be a PT or PTA?” In the first article, we discussed education requirements. In this article, we review the differences between PTs and PTAs once you graduate and start working.
Patient-Client Management Model in Physical Therapy
One of the first things you will learn about in physical therapy school is how physical therapy practice is structured. The Guide to Physical Therapist Practice calls it the Patient-Client Management Model and it is arranged in a circle to represent the cycle of care that each patient follows. (There is an updated version of this in the 3rd edition of The Guide, but I find that the explanation below is still valuable.)
APTA, Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, 2nd edition
When a patient arrives for their first physical therapy appointment, the cycle begins in the Examination box at the lower left corner. The PT does a full work up of the patient, and then goes to the next phase, which is Evaluation. Evaluation is taking all of the information from the Examination, and pairing it with the PT’s knowledge and the current best scientific evidence; this leads to the physical therapy Diagnosis (what’s wrong with the patient?) and the Prognosis (how can we help the patient, and how long it is going to take?). Interventions are the actual things we’ll do with the patient, like exercises, manual therapy and education. Finally, in Outcomes, we do some more testing to see if what we have done is working.
Physical Therapy Practice Areas
PTAs Work Under the Direction and Supervision of the PT
This means that the PT will delegate only certain Interventions to the PTA. For example, the PT decides that the PTA should not be providing a particular exercise to the patient because the patient has a special circumstance. Most of the time, however, the PTA is performing the majority of the Interventions listed in the Plan of Care.
It also means that the PTA can’t practice physical therapy unless there is a plan of care in place. I have had many students, who are personal trainers, start my PTA program thinking that they can add physical therapy to the list of services they offer clients once they graduate. However, in order to legally provide physical therapy services and bill insurance companies for them, a PT must first see the patient and set up a plan of care. Without the plan of care in place, the PTA runs the risk of legal action against their license.
Another difference between PTs and PTAs once you graduate, is the salary.
Physical Therapy Salaries
Both have good earning potential, but you will have to decide whether the extra years in school, leading to a higher salary are worth it.
And don’t forget to factor in those loan payments! The following example assumes a public institution education, take-home tax rate of 33%, and 6% loan interest.
Physical Therapy Take Home Pay with Loan Amounts
So, now you have even more information about the differences between PTs and PTAs, to help you decide which path to choose. In the next article, we will discuss career path options for PTs and PTAs.
Did you miss the first article? Find it here.
- Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, 2nd edition, American Physical Therapy Association
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm, Accessed February 25, 2014
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2009/may/oes312021.htm, Accessed February 25, 2014.
- American Physical Therapy Association, 2010 Median Income of Physical Therapists Summary Report
- American Physical Therapy Association, 2009 Median Income of Physical Therapist Assistants Summary Report
- http://www.aie.org/paying-for-college/finance-tools/College-Loans-A-Cost-Calculator.cfm. Accessed February 25, 2014.