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

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

If you are considering a career in patient therapy, you’re probably weighing the pros and cons of Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy.

Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists have many overlapping job responsibilities, but the specific roles do vary quite a bit. Because you are here now, you are likely wondering, “Which path should I choose: an OT or PT career?”

In this article, we will outline the difference between OT and PT so you can feel confident in your choice of career. We will cover:

  • Everything that Occupational and Physical Therapists do,
  • How to become an OT or PT, and
  • The salaries for both specialties.

Armed with this wealth of information, you will have everything you need to determine which specialty is the perfect one for you.

BONUS: Trying to figure out what career is right for you?

Before we dive into the specifics of each profession, it’s important to understand the fundamental difference between OT and PT:

Both professions center around hands-on rehabilitation, however, OT focuses on the improvement of daily activities. A PT focuses on specific improvement of body movement(s).

So, OT vs PT: let’s begin with a detailed breakdown of occupational therapy professional responsibilities.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do | OT vs PT: How To Choose The Right Career Path For You

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

The occupational therapy scope of practice is quite large! So, what does an Occupational Therapist do exactly? Think of an OT as a functional support system.

As mentioned, the main difference between OT and a 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 daily tasks.
  • Evaluating a patient’s condition, needs, and motor skills.
  • Developing a treatment plan for patients, identifying specific goals and the types of everyday 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 a 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 recording patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers.

SEE ALSO: A Day in the Life of an Occupational Therapist Getting it Right

These responsibilities outline what an OT working in a medical setting may do on a daily basis. But did you know there are OT specialties that can take you out of the Doctor’s office?

The Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM or SCDCM-A) specialties work in a variety of areas throughout the community! If you like the idea of working “outside the box”, this specialty may be for you. 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

Perhaps you’re more interested in the strategic side of daily functionality. One of the most unique OT specialties focuses specifically on the world we live in. 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

So, does the OT profession seem up your alley? If so, read on to learn about the educational qualifications needed to become one!

Quiz - OT specialtiesWhich OT specialty is right for you?
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How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Becoming an Occupational Therapist requires a lot of time and dedication. Therefore, this effort is rewarded with a highly stable career, ample salary, and consistent fulfillment.

Obtaining an OT position includes four main elements:

  1. Earning a Bachelor’s Degree
  2. Earning a Master’s Degree from an accredited University with an Occupational Therapy program
  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 | OT vs PT: How To Choose The Right Career Path For You

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

The Physical Therapist role is wide-ranging. Don’t worry, we’re going to answer your question, “What does a Physical Therapist do?” and so much more!

Unlike OTs who focus on necessary daily activities such as feeding and bathing, a PT is a movement expert and focuses on specific body movements. Think of PTs as a mechanic for the body to help patients through physical rehabilitation.

Physical Therapists are almost always needed after an injury or illness incapacitates a patient in some way. You may hear people talking about needing to rehab their shoulder or knee after surgery. 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, improve muscle strength, 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.

SEE ALSO: Physical Therapist Skills: What You Need to Succeed Now

Unlike the OT profession whose specialties can take you out of the office, 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)

There are several physical therapy specialties that you can choose from. Maybe you love working with babies, or perhaps working with the elderly is more your speed. 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 with a physical therapy program.
  3. Passing the NPTE (National Physical Therapy 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 | OT vs PT: How To Choose The Right Career Path For You

OT vs PT Salary

Even though you are going into the healthcare field because you are passionate about helping others, you still have to earn a living.

It is valuable to know the salaries for both of these positions as it likely plays a role in your decision.

The average salaries listed below are based on the 2017 year:

  • Occupational therapy average salary: $83,200 per year
  • Physical therapy average salary: $86,850 per year

SEE ALSO: How to Get Hired for the Highest Paying Physical Therapy Jobs

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

[clickToTweet tweet=”Occupational therapy average salary: $83,200 per year (2017). #occupationaltherapist #otjobs ” quote=”Occupational therapy average salary: $83,200 per year (2017). “]

[clickToTweet tweet=”Physical therapy average salary: $86,850 per year (2017). #physicaltherapist #ptjobs” quote=”Physical therapy average salary: $86,850 per year (2017).”]

What’s better: OT or PT? | OT vs PT: How To Choose The Right Career Path For You


So what’s better: OT or PT? You are now well equipped to compare OT vs PT jobs and make that decision based on your personal career aspirations and lifestyle.


  • Occupational Therapists focus on helping patients master the activities of daily living
  • Physical Therapists focus on helping patients recover range of motion and decrease pain after an injury or illness.
  • The average salary for an OT is $83,200 per year.
  • The average salary for a PT is $86,850 per year.

If you’re interested in getting a travel occupational therapy job or a travel physical therapy job, talk to our team. We can help you find the right fit.

BONUS: Trying to figure out what career is right for you?

Which profession do you lean more towards…OT vs PT?

Share with us in the comments below!


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