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by Stacy Choquette, PTA

As a PTA myself, this seems to be a common question I encounter often from my patients, other physical therapists and doctors alike.  What is a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA)?  And how is it different from a Physical Therapist (PT) or a PT Aide?

A PTA is an accredited Associates Degree program.  You have to complete your schooling then pass the Massachusetts licensure exam to become a licensed member of the Allied Board of Health.  We go through extensive training on treatment techniques of patients with orthopedic or neurological disorders.  These techniques include modality use (electric stimulation, ultrasound, laser, etc), hands on approaches, exercise and stretching as well as gait and transfer safety.  The last four months of our education is spent completing 600 hours of patient care.  We are graded by our clinical instructors and they ultimately decide if we are ready to pass our course work and take the licensure exam.

So, what is the difference between a PTA and a PT?  A PT has a Doctorate Degree which includes much more extensive academic and clinical preparation regarding diagnosis and evaluation skills.  PTAs are not trained in the diagnosis, evaluation or discharge of patients.  A patient will always see a PT on their first visit for an evaluation, diagnosis, and a plan of care.  It is the job of the PTA to create and change the physical therapy program and carry out the treatment prescribed by the PT.  We work as a team continually updating each other and presenting new ideas with each patient that comes into our clinic.

A PT Aide is someone who helps out in the clinic to keep things running smoothly.  They do not necessarily have to have any academic preparation or experience in patient care.  They are trained on the job.  Aides can help with clean up, organization of the clinic, applying a hot pack or cold packs on a patient and help to oversee exercises programs for some patients.  Aides are not permitted by law to apply any hands on treatment or modalities or change the exercise program.

So these are the differences between a PT, PTA and PT Aide.  Hopefully it will help you to better understand who you are working with and make sure you are getting the best care possible the next time you walk into a physical therapy clinic!

Stacy Choquette is a Physical Therapy Assistant at Boston Sports Medicine