- Admissions & Aid
- Student Life
- Mercy & Tradition
Occupational therapy and physical therapy are two similar professions that are commonly mistaken for one another. When it comes to choosing a career, many people wonder what the difference between occupational and physical therapy is and how that affects their career path. Members of each field provide necessary medical therapy to help remedy bodily injuries or combat dystrophy due to sickness, but there are some key differences between the two fields. These core differences should be taken into account before choosing your occupational therapy program or occupational science degree program.
The difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy is that physical therapists treat specific areas to improve body movement, while occupational therapists treat the entire body to help improve the overall daily living of their patients. For example, an occupational therapist would be more likely to provide help to an individual with a chronic disability. Their counterpart in physical therapy would be much more likely to work with an individual who has torn a muscle, experienced a car accident, or received a hip replacement.
An easy way to think about the subtle difference is that physical therapists, for the most part, help people return to as close to one hundred percent functioning as possible. On the other hand, occupational therapists work with people to help them feel comfortable and able-bodied with the physical limitations they have.
Despite the fact there is a difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy, there is still significant overlap between the two. A physical therapist could potentially have a patient who has suffered a stroke or has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy because techniques in physical therapy may be able to improve those more long-term conditions, as well. On the other hand, it is well within an occupational therapist’s expertise to work with elderly patients managing replaced joints, which is something usually left to physical therapists. Here’s a list of some tasks and responsibilities common across both fields:
• Review patients’ medical history
• Diagnose each patient’s needs based on physical movement and medical condition
• Develop individualized treatment plans for all patients
• Assess and record each patient’s progress
• Educate and inform the families of patients on their condition
Occupational therapy is a type of holistic approach to long-term care that focuses not only on body movement and function but on the environment as well. The goal of occupational therapy is to make a patient as comfortable and able as possible in their day-to-day activity. An occupational therapist will use a patient’s medical history and their daily routine to configure the best possible personalized treatment plan for each patient. They use this information to suggest environmental changes in the home and workplace, as well as recommending adaptive equipment (like a leg brace or wheelchair). A good example of an environmental change, in the workplace or in the home, would be the elimination of a fall hazard. Occupational therapists can speak with employers about recommended physical changes to the patient’s place of employment.
A lot of an occupational therapist’s focus is on the physical well-being of their patient’s, but they are also trained in caring for individuals with mental or developmental disabilities. Just like individuals with physical disabilities, these patients can benefit from occupational therapists making helpful suggestions catered toward improving daily life. These professionals are trained to teach skills such as budgeting, time management, public transportation navigation, doing household chores, and other common activities. For further information on occupational therapists, such as possible career paths or educational programs, be sure to check our specialized page on the field: https://www.gmercyu.edu/academics/learn/what-is-occupational-therapist
The median annual salary for occupational therapists is $84,270 as of May 2018. The lowest ten percent of occupational therapists earned less than $55,490, while the highest ten percent earned more than $120,750. These statistics, provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), show average annual pay that is far greater than the average earnings across all jobs in the United States. Even the starting salary of the lowest ten percent is tens of thousands of dollars greater than that average American salary. Overall, occupational therapy is a well-compensated profession.
According to the BLS, 31,000 new jobs in occupational therapy will be created by 2026. That is based on a growth rate of 24% since 2016. That also means that the occupational therapist average salary is over three times the average national growth rate across all occupations.
This growth rate is largely due to the aging Baby Boomer population in need of occupational aid in their advanced years. Individuals with Alzheimer’s, stroke, and general dystrophy, all common in older individuals, can greatly benefit from the help of an occupational therapist. The average number of individuals affected by long-term physical or mental disability only increases the demand for properly educated and trained occupational therapists. It’s clear that the growing need for occupational therapists will contribute to their high demand for the foreseeable future.
If you are interested in occupational therapy, one option is an individualized master’s program. A master’s degree in occupational therapy can give you a significant leg up on the competition. For more information, take a look at Gwynedd Mercy University’s own Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program.
Physical therapy is a process of rehabilitation that focuses on issues with body functionality. Generally, these issues stem from accidents or surgical procedures. Some common injuries physical therapists can help with are arthritis, sprains, muscle strains, back and neck pain, and fractures. Amputees can also greatly benefit from physical therapy. Occasionally, physical therapists provide aid for individuals with chronic conditions like neurological disorders, stroke recovery, or cerebral palsy. Physical therapists are trained to teach helpful exercises to restore movement and other exercises that improve practical, everyday movement for people that require adaptive equipment. They are also trained to supervise exercises that improve the strength and mobility of damaged joints. Due to the expansive skill set and diverse set of ailments that physical therapists are trained for, their day to day activities can differ greatly. One day they could be treating an injured athlete, and the next they could be treating an individual recovering from a stroke.
Certified physical therapists have a number of career options. Primarily, physical therapists are hired by offices that specialize in different types of therapy. The second most common employer of individuals in this field is state, local, and government hospitals. Properly qualified and educated candidates can potentially find lucrative positions working with these types of employers.
The average annual salary of a physical therapist is $87,930. The lowest ten percent earned less than $60,390, and the highest ten percent earned more than $123,350. Similarly to occupational therapists’ salary, physical therapists make well over the average annual salary across all occupations. These statistics are according to data from a 2018 BLS survey.
When considering salary, it’s also important to note that the vast majority of physical therapists work full time.
According to the BLS, it is projected that there will be 67,100 physical therapy job openings by 2026. This is due to a 28% projected growth rate since 2016. Two of the main issues driving up the demand for physical therapy are increasing cases of obesity and diabetes. A large number of physical therapists are needed to help those individuals strengthen and improve regular body motion.
Advancements in the medical field drive up the demand for physical therapy careers, as well. Doctors have become more adept at treating serious trauma and birth defects, leaving physical therapists with a lot of pertinent rehabilitation and training to do once individuals are released from the care of a hospital.
When choosing between physical therapy vs occupational therapy, choose based on your preferences and goals. If you’d like to make attempts at improving or curing more sudden limitations, or if you’re a former athlete with a passion for getting competitors back out onto the field, you might want to choose physical therapy. That makes up a large part of their schedule. If you’d like to come up with efficient ways for individuals to effectively work with long-term or permanent disabilities, occupational therapy may be the right path for you.
Take into account the similarities and core differences between the two professions outlined above. Which of those responsibilities strike you as important or rewarding? Do any miss the mark in regard to your areas of interest? Also, to get an idea of what each career path will offer, take a look at some degree programs for each of the two professions. All of these details should help you make an educated, informed decision on your career path.
Occupational therapy is a very promising profession. Although it is a career similar to physical therapy, the occupational therapist job outlook is top-notch, and the expected salary is well above the national average. Also, working with chronically disabled individuals is an extremely rewarding line of work, and that is something that we value greatly here at GMercyU. Be sure to take a look at our own individualized Master of Science in Occupational Therapy Program as well as our Bachelor of Health Science in Occupational Science, which can serve as a dual degree program. Individuals that complete this program graduate with the well-trained, compassionate hands that are necessary to help those in need.