In our first article in this series, we discussed the differences in educational requirements; in our second installment, we outlined things to think about once you graduate. Beyond what it will be like immediately after you graduate, it is important to know what your choice (PT or PTA?) will mean down the road as your career develops.
Be The Boss
Many physical therapy graduates aim to be the head of a physical therapy or rehab department. Both PTs and PTAs can fill this role. However, if you are a PTA with an associate’s degree but no bachelor’s, you may need to go back to school before you qualify for one of these posts. Most managerial positions require a bachelor’s degree and sometimes a Master’s.
Some students in my PTA program plan to further their careers by pursuing a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree after graduation. I often advise these students to consider other pathways for their careers as well. These include pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business or management, or even a Master’s in Public Health. Both degrees will help you gain the skills you need to run a rehab department, where a DPT program has very little of the curriculum dedicated to these topics.
Be Your Own Boss
Another common goal of physical therapy graduates is becoming the owner of a PT clinic. Again, both PTs and PTAs are eligible to do this, however, there can be additional challenges for a PTA. Remember, PTAs must work under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. PTAs cannot provide physical therapy unless a PT first sees the patient and sets up a plan of care.
Most private clinic owners start out by themselves, which means they are PTs – setting up plans of care, and executing them on their own. Since a PTA cannot do that, he or she will need to hire, or partner with, a PT from day one. This extra requirement can often make the path to clinic ownership more challenging, but not impossible.
Be the Teacher
One additional career choice is to join the faculty of a physical therapy program. Faculty and administrators of PTA programs are usually required to have a Master’s degree or higher, although it doesn’t necessarily need to be a Master’s in Physical Therapy. Some faculty have graduate degrees in education or public health.
To teach in a PT program, you’ll need an entry-level physical therapist degree and some sort of research credential, such as a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. You’ll also need a fair amount of experience working in the field. For this reason, PTs are more likely to teach in a physical therapist program than PTAs. PTs can have experience in, and teach about the patient examination, evaluation, prognosis, diagnosis and plan of care. Since PTAs are not allowed to perform those functions in the workplace, they do not have the experience level required to teach in a PT program in most cases.