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Comparison of Occupational Therapy With Physical Therapy: Which Job Demand Is Bigger in the US?

by Clayton Browne

The already great demand for therapy-related healthcare professionals such as physical and occupational therapists has been increased by the roll out of the Affordable Care Act. The White House is projecting up to 32 million additional Americans will have access to health insurance by 2019 due to the ACA, and this means a significantly increased demand for primary care providers, nurses and physical and occupational therapists of all types. Job growth for both physical and occupational therapists is expected to exceed 30 percent through 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Physical Therapist Job Description

The primary responsibility of a physical therapist is to help people recover from injuries or debilitating conditions. Physical therapists work with people who have problems resulting from back and neck injuries, sprains, fractures, arthritis, amputations, stroke, injuries related to work or sports and congenital conditions. PTs use a variety of techniques to help patients build up strength and mobility. Common physical therapy techniques include alternating heat and cold, physical stimulation or massage as well as the use of assistive or adaptive equipment.

Physical Therapist Compensation and Prospects

Physical therapists earned a median wage of $79,860 in 2012, according to the BLS. Those employed in Nevada came out on top of the pay scale, earning an average wage of $110,670 in 2012. PTs based in Vermont came out towards the bottom of the pay scale, only earning an average wage of $73.070. The BLS anticipates a robust 39 percent job growth for physical therapists from 2010 to 2020.

Occupational Therapist Job Description

Occupational therapists help people regain their daily living and job skills after a major injury or illness. Job duties for occupational therapists include observing a patient doing tasks, asking questions and reviewing medical records to assess the patient's needs, designing a treatment plan that specifies activities and goals, teaching those with disabilities how to prepare meals or use a computer, suggesting exercises to relieve pain, such as back exercises or joint stretches, evaluating a patient’s home or workplace to optimize the layout around the patient’s health needs, recommending special assistive equipment and educating others regarding accommodations and care for the patient.

Occupational Therapist Compensation and Prospects

The BLS reports that occupational therapists earned a median wage of $75,400 in 2012. Occupational therapists employed in the home health care industry came out on top of the pay scale, garnering $86,850 in 2012, while those employed in elementary and secondary school earned the least at $68,440. Job prospects for occupational therapists are almost as good as the prospects for physical therapists, with the BLS projecting a strong 33 percent growth for the profession from 2010 to 2020.

About the Author

Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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