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Occupational Therapist (OT) vs Physical Therapist (PT) Careers

Updated on September 29, 2012

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin

Both occupational therapists and physical therapists treat patients for injuries and illnesses without prescribing medications or using invasive surgical procedures. Instead they rely on exercises, movement retraining and special equipment to minimize the effects of physical disabilities. Choosing one career over another depends on the duties, qualifications and rewards of each.


Both OTs and PTs assess a patient’s conditions by asking him questions, analyzing his medical history and observing him perform physical activities. They can then create a treatment plan, often by consulting other health professionals such as doctors, and discussing options with the patient and his family.

  • However, PTs have a wider range of treatment options available, such as exercises, stretching, hands-on therapy and equipment to help pages. They can thus treat a wider array of medical issues including athletic problems.
  • OTs are limited to demonstrating exercises and recommending special equipment, such as walkers. They are thus more focused on improving everyday living and working.


Occupational therapists need a minimum master’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy program, which normally takes two years of full-time study to complete beyond the four years of a bachelor’s degree. Physical therapists normally need a Doctor of Physical Therapy credential, which takes three years. However, some programs award a Master of Physical Therapy degree, which can take as little as two years. Training for both types of jobs also include several months of supervised fieldwork or internship, to equip students with practical experience. All states require both jobs to be licensed, which mandates a degree and passing an exam.

OT Compensation

OTs earn lower salaries than PTs at an average $74,970 per year, or $36.05 per hour, as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • The lowest-paid 10 percent made $49,980 yearly, or $24.03 hourly, while the highest-paid 10 percent earned a mean annual $104,350, or $50.17 per hour.
  • Most worked in occupational therapist practices to average $76,190 per year, or $36.63 per hour.
  • Next for jobs were general medical and surgical hospitals, which averaged $74,250 per year, or $74,250 per hour.
  • Their highest salaries were with home health care services at a mean annual $85,540 per year, or $41.13 per hour.

PT Compensation

Physical therapists boasted average wages that were 6 percent higher than OTs at mean $79,830 per year, or $38.38 per hour.

  • The lowest earning made an annual $54,710, or $26.30 hourly, while the highest earning received $110,670 yearly, or $53.21 per hour.
  • Their biggest employers were the offices of physical therapists, offering mean wages of $78,120 yearly, or $37.56 hourly.
  • Next for opportunities were general medical and surgical hospitals, with averages at $78,710 per year, or $37.84 per hour.
  • The employers with the highest pay were management, scientific and technical consultants at an average $91,020 yearly, or $43.76 hourly.


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    • profile image

      Qudsia Q 

      5 years ago

      Hi alocsin,

      Voted up, interesting and useful

      This is a useful hub for anyone wanting to change or begin a career. Thank you for such an insightful and interesting hub here. You have skillfully explained the difference between OT and PT. These types of careers were very rewarding.

    • lifetips123 profile image

      Praveen P.V. Nair 

      6 years ago from Trivandrum

      Hi bro, this is so much helpful to me as i am also thinking about doing physical therapy sessions due to my leg up and useful

    • Ruchira profile image


      6 years ago from United States

      such a timely hub, alocsin.

      my friend has been debating between ot versus pt and will forward this link to her.

      thanks and voted up as interesting

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Came back for another read! lol! voted up and fb shared, nell

    • Lizam1 profile image


      6 years ago from Scotland

      Thanks very helpful. My 15 year old daughter is considering massage and sports therapy as a career and we are exploring different options for the future.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 

      6 years ago from Asia

      I didn't know the differences, this hub was interesting. Rewarding work with a pretty good salary too!

      Shared, up, interesting, tweeted and pinned.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 

      6 years ago from West Virginia

      Alocsin, voted this up, useful, and shared it as well. This is a great paying job. I believe many people do this so they can help others, it is a job that makes one feel worthy. I agree with Peggy, that is a lot of schooling, but still a high paying job. Well done Alocsin.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I also know a physical therapist. It is a good income but I did not realize that it necessitated that much extra schooling beyond a bachelor's degree. They do such important work! Up votes and definitely sharing.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      6 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Very interesting details about the essential differences between the two careers. Voted up, useful and shared.

    • alocsin profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I've never heard of DSI, Larry. Perhaps a hub about it would be useful.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I have a friend who is a PT and she loves her job. Mainly, she loves helping others to overcome barriers and to get back to a normal lifestyle. She does make a decent living, as you have shared in your research.

    • vespawoolf profile image


      6 years ago from Peru, South America

      PT was my hubby's alternative career choice, so I read this with interest. I've always been amazed by what a good wage they earn...not that it's not deserved. It's a demanding and rewarding line of work. Thanks for another interesting addition to the series.

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 

      6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Great comparison of the two different professions. I have a sister that is a PT and friend that is an OT so I know a little about what they do but didn't realize the income was that good. My sister must be making more than I thought. Voted up!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      6 years ago from Western NC

      Wow! OT's and PT's can make a lot of money. Well, if my writing gig doesn't work out I'll have to look into that, lol. Awesome hub! Voting/sharing/tweeting.

    • GiblinGirl profile image


      6 years ago from New Jersey

      I've always thought these types of careers were very rewarding. Good to know they actually earn decent wages.

    • greeneryday profile image


      6 years ago from Some tropical country

      Wow never thought that both careers will offer earning potential, this is interesting and voted up..

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      6 years ago from Northern California

      Hi alocsin. Voted up and interesting.

      I have Dysfunctional Sensory Integration, which is basically screwed up wiring. I have sensory defensiveness for some stimuli, and I'm under-sensitive to other sensory inputs.

      And there's nothing that physicians can do about it. The only treatment that works is called Sensory Diet. For example, daily strength training for my upper legs is absolutely essential for my well-being.

      For people with DSI, OTs who specialize in this area are the health professionals of choice.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Being that I am a Physical Therapist, I definitely agree with Billybuc! Im actually compensated better with home health. None the less, very good hub. Thumbs up.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Seems low to me for the important work that they do. Another great hub in this interesting series.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      Its good to see that they get paid a decent wage, its such an important job. great information as always alocsin, voted up and shared nell

    • PurvisBobbi44 profile image


      6 years ago from Florida


      This is a useful hub for anyone wanting to change or begin a career. One of my friends is a PT and she loves it. Have a great new week.

      I voted useful and tweeted. Great job.

      Bobbi Purvis

    • tammyswallow profile image


      6 years ago from North Carolina

      I always wanted to be an occupational therapist. This is a very informative hub with some great information. Sharing!

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      6 years ago from southern USA

      I have always wondered exactly what the difference are in the two. Thank you for such an insightful and interesting hub here. Voted Up, awesome, useful and interesting Great for those still searching for the particular field in which they desire to work. In His Love, Faith Reaper


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