Physical Therapist Aide VS Physical Therapist Assistant: What’s the Difference?

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Many people think that a physical therapist aide and a physical therapist assistant are one and the same thing.

In some ways they are correct, but they’re also wrong.

Don’t you want to know what’s the difference between a physical therapist aide and a physical therapist assistant?

If so, don’t stop reading for we’re about to solve this mystery!

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What is a Physical Therapist Aide?

It’s easier to understand the difference between 2 similarly named jobs by having a look at each of them.

Physical Therapist Aide Job Description

One of the first things to know about the aides of the physical therapists is that they perform supervised work.

The aides are overseen by both the physical therapists and by physical therapist assistants.

Additionally, the aides of physical therapists hold entry-level positions.

Here are the tasks they’re usually given:

  • Performing clerical duties
  • Moving patients to and from treatment areas
  • Helping with pain management
  • Helping patients shower
  • Helping patients eat
  • Cleaning and sanitizing treatment areas and equipment
  • Washing linens
  • Helping patients dress on and off
  • Documenting patients’ responses and progress
  • Liaise with physicians’ offices and hospital personnel

In some of the places they work for, these aides may receive additional responsibilities, and in others less.

Their duties might also be influenced by what the patient suffers from.

Requirements to Become a Physical Therapist Aide

So, how does one become a physical therapist aide?

Aside from applying for an open position, the candidates must also conform to some requirements.

Here are the attributes most needed for such a job:

  • Being calm
  • Able to handle stressful situations
  • Passion for helping people
  • Detail-oriented
  • Good communication skills
  • Having a high school diploma or GED
  • Having on-the-job training
  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Having a clean criminal record
  • Having patience
  • Self-motivation
  • Having physical stamina
  • Able to work as part of a team

Job ads may not list all these characteristics, but it doesn’t mean they’re not needed.

Furthermore, some employers might add some extra ones, even if the occupation is so low on the career ladder.

Education to Become a Physical Therapist Aide

Is there any need for a physical therapist aide to receive any special education?

The short answer is no.

The long answer has some nuances that should be clarified.

It was already mentioned that the candidates must graduate from high school or have a general education diploma at minimum.

These healthcare workers usually receive training during the first month of employment.

However, if the aide wants to advance in their healthcare career, it is better to study for at least an associates’ degree diploma in the field.

The studies can be completed while working this type of job.

Physical Therapist Aide License

Physical therapist aides are not required to earn a license in any state.

This is especially true if the aide will be responsible for completing administrative duties.

If the duties of the aides involve more patient interaction, then a license is mandatory.

The best license to obtain is the one that physical therapist assistants obtain.

We’ll talk about how to obtain this license, later on.

Regardless of the need for a license, physical therapist aides need to have some certifications.

The certifications needed are for CPR as well as other first aid methods and skills.

Physical Therapist Aide VS Physical Therapist Assistant: What's the Difference?

What is a Physical Therapist Assistant?

Now, let’s see what a physical therapist assistant is!

Physical Therapist Assistant Job Description

Physical therapist assistants are also working under supervision.

Their supervisors are the physical therapists for which the former work.

These professionals usually complete tasks such as:

  • Observing patients before, during, and after therapy
  • Helping patients with specific exercises
  • Treating patients through various procedures
  • Educating both patients and their families
  • Using various devices and equipment
  • Supervising the work of physical therapist aides

It’s possible that at times PT assistants might have to complete additional tasks.

These additional duties could be those of the aides or others that haven’t been mentioned already.

Requirements to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

Of course, physical therapist assistants are also expected to meet specific requirements.

They’re very similar if not identical to those of the physical therapist aides.

Here are the main ones:

  • Having good communication skills
  • Having stamina
  • Being able to work as part of a team
  • Having dexterity
  • Being compassionate
  • Being detail-oriented
  • Being licensed
  • Having a clean criminal record

It’s needless to say that additional demands might be added by various employers.

Education to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapist assistants are required in all the states to earn an Associates’ degree.

Graduating with an Associates’ degree diploma can be done after about 2 years of study.

Some assistants choose to study for 4 years and earn the Bachelors’ degree diploma instead.

The program you enroll in has to be accredited.

There are about 300 such courses available in the US.

These can be attended in more ways:

  • Online
  • In-person
  • Part-time
  • Full-time

Here are some of the skills you’ll develop in these programs:

  • Therapeutic exercises
  • Application of heat or cold
  • Soft tissue mobilization
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Documentation
  • Neuromuscular, musculoskeletal, and cardiopulmonary treatment skills

These classes will also have a clinical experience as well.

Physical Therapist Assistant License

Unlike physical therapist aides, physical therapist assistants need a license.

the license can only be obtained after graduating from the degree program.

The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy issues this credential.

To obtain it, individuals must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam.

This exam is made available at different levels of difficulty.

Individuals can attempt passing any level only 3 times in a row.

Additionally, nobody is allowed to attempt passing any level more than 6 times in total.

If you score a maximum of 400 twice for a single level, you can’t try to sit through another test for that level.

Obtaining the license means that you’ll also have to maintain it valid.

It goes without saying that CPR and first aid certifications are also mandatory for this position.

These are usually obtained through the training program from which the person graduated.

Employment for Physical Therapist Aides and Assistants

Physical therapist aides and assistants work together, as was already mentioned.

The difference comes from the fact that aides hold an entry-level position.

It’s very common for PT assistants to work as PT aides while they study for their degrees.

These professionals are also in high demand.

Here are the facilities that need such healthcare workers:

  • Hospitals
  • Offices of physicians
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Nursing care facilities
  • The offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists,
  • The offices of audiologists

Both aides and assistants have the opportunity to advance their careers.

This is possible for aides only if they get the education and licensing of the assistants.

Granted, aides can also obtain the credentials of other medical personnel.

The salary will also set aides and assistants apart, with the former earning less than the latter.


Physical therapist aides and assistants have many common points.

These includes:

  • Workplace or employer
  • Schedule
  • Job duties
  • Job requirements and skills
  • Needing to be supervised

The differences are harder to notice, as they relate usually to:

  • Their hierarchy at the workplace
  • Their level of education
  • Their need for a license
  • Their income

At this point of the presentation, we hope it’s easier to understand why many people confuse these 2 occupations.

We also believe it’s easier to realize how are these professionals different.

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