OT vs PT: How To Choose The Right Career Path For You

Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists have many overlapping job responsibilities, but the specific roles do vary quite a bit.

If you’re wondering whether you should choose an OT or PT career, this article will give you everything you need to determine which specialty is the perfect one for you.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

The main difference between OT and PT is that Occupational Therapists treat the whole person. That means they focus on activities of daily living (sometimes called ADL).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, OT job duties include:

  • Reviewing patients’ medical history, ask the patients questions, and observe them doing tasks.
  • Evaluating a patient’s condition and needs.
  • Developing a treatment plan for patients, identifying specific goals and the types of activities that will be used to help the patient work toward those goals.
  • Helping people with various disabilities perform different tasks, such as teaching a stroke victim how to get dressed.
  • Demonstrating exercises—for example, stretching the joints for arthritis relief—that can help relieve pain in people with chronic conditions.
  • Evaluating a patient’s home or workplace and, on the basis of the patient’s health needs, identify potential improvements, such as labeling kitchen cabinets for an older person with poor memory.
  • Educating a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient.
  • Recommending special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment.
  • Assessing and record patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers.

These responsibilities outline what an OT working in a medical setting may do on a daily basis, but their role changes in the community.

The Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM or SCDCM-A) specialties work in a variety of areas throughout the community! OTs who earn this board certification help patients with:

Driving or riding in cars

  • Teaching the use of adaptive equipment
  • Determining if a patient is fit to drive
  • Providing drive-specific rehabilitation services
  • Advocating for the patient legally regarding court decisions about continuing to drive
  • Teaching teens with disabilities to drive

Public transit options

  • Training someone in a method of transportation he/she is not familiar
  • Consulting with transit companies, city officials or policymakers to advocate for mobility-related issues
  • Facilitating traffic safety programs geared toward those with disabilities


  • Working with the city to ensure ADA compliance via curb-cuts, textured ramps, etc.
  • Providing patient guidance on best routes and times of day

If you’re more interested in the strategic side of daily functionality, Environmental Modification (SCEM or SCEM-A) is a specialty that focuses on the modification, adaptation, or changes of home, school, work, or community environments.

Unlike working in a hospital, private practice or school, environmental modification specialties work is as-needed, making them a consultant of sorts. There are many pros in this specialty, such as:

  • The flexibility to make your own schedule
  • Travel opportunities to work throughout the state and country
  • Patient advocacy
  • Community networking

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Becoming an Occupational Therapist requires a lot of time and dedication. Obtaining an OT position includes four main elements:

  1. Earning a Bachelor’s Degree
  2. Earning a Master’s Degree from an accredited University
  3. Passing the NBCOT Exam
  4. Applying for licensure in your state

Now that you have a clear understanding of what a career in occupational therapy entails, let’s switch gears.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Unlike OTs who focus on necessary daily activities such as feeding and bathing, PTs focus on specific body movements. Think of PTs are a mechanic for the body.

Physical Therapists are almost always needed after an injury or illness incapacitates a patient in some way. PTs aid patients with things like range of motion and functionality.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics,  Physical Therapists typically do the following:

  • Review patients’ medical history and any referrals or notes from doctors, surgeons, or other healthcare workers.
  • Diagnose patients’ functions and movements by observing them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods.
  • Develop individualized plans of care for patients, outlining the patients’ goals and the expected outcomes of the plans.
  • Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness.
  • Evaluate and record a patient’s progress, modifying a plan of care and trying new treatments as needed.
  • Educate patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process and how best to cope with challenges throughout the process.

PTs tend to work exclusively in medical settings. Unless you choose to work as an on-call hospital PT, you can count on regular office hours and weekends off.

PTs can be found in a number of environments, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Assisted living and residential facilities
  • Private practices
  • Home health care (assignment based)

PTs can work with patients of all ages and you can choose your desired patient demographic when you search for positions.

How to Become a Physical Therapist

If becoming a PT seems like a great fit for you, it will take you about 7 years. That’s four years of undergrad and three years in the post.

The path for PT licensure looks a lot like the one for OTs. When weighing your preferred position, note that they take the same amount of schooling:

  1. First, you need to earn your Bachelor’s Degree.
  2. Then, earn your Master’s Degree from an accredited University.
  3. Passing the NPTE Exam.
  4. Finally, apply for licensure in your state.

Last but not least, let’s review the earning potential for both positions.

OT vs PT Salary

The average salaries listed below are based on the 2018 year:

  • Occupational therapy average salary: $85,350 per year
  • Physical therapy average salary: $88,880 per year

Note that salary will range based on your state, experience and if you choose to obtain board certification (further specialize).

Find the Career That’s the Best Fit

After reading through all of this info, which career do you think is the best for you? Contact us if you still have any additional questions.

Whether you are searching for job opportunities as a travel nurse, caregiver, physical therapist, or want to land a career as a travel occupational therapy, we can help!


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