Physical Therapist and Occupational Therapist

Physical therapists and occupational therapists are health care professionals who help people with a wide range of diseases, injuries, or disabilities maintain or improve their health and ability to carry out everyday tasks. They assess a patient's overall condition, develop a treatment plan, help the patient carry out the plan, and determine if the plan is working.

Physical and occupational therapists work in hospitals, clinics, schools, long-term care homes, research institutions, and in private practice. Both professions can be physically demanding and require strong interpersonal skills and a solid background in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and mathematics. Although some schools still offer four-year baccalaureate degrees, by 2002 (for new physical therapists) and 2007 (for new occupational therapists) all students will have to complete at least a master's degree in their field. After graduation, students must pass a licensing exam in order to treat patients. Students interested in these fields can do volunteer work to learn more about the work and gain experience before committing to a full training program.

Physical therapists work with patients to relieve pain and improve joint mobility, balance, coordination, movement, and overall health. For example, they may help a person recovering from shoulder surgery regain normal range of motion, a stroke patient learn to walk again, or a spinal cord injury patient to become as independent as possible.

Physical therapists use many techniques and tools to accomplish their goals, including exercises, massage, hot and cold packs, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and assistive devices (crutches, prostheses, and wheelchairs).

Occupational therapists work with patients to improve their ability to carry out activities associated with daily living or employment. For example, they may help a person who recently lost his vision learn to navigate his home, a developmentally disabled student participate in school, or a patient with head trauma learn to eat, dress, and bathe again. Occupational therapists use many tools to accomplish their goals, including assistive devices, computers, and a variety of everyday objects.

SEE ALSO Doctor, Family Practice ; Medical Assistant ; Nurse ; Nurse Practitioner

John M. Ripper


American Occupational Therapy Association. "A Career in Occupational Therapy: A Rewarding Choice in Health Care." AOTA Student Area. <> .

American Physical Therapy Association. "A Future in Physical Therapy," APTA Education. <> .

Krumhansl, Bernice. Opportunities in Physical Therapy Careers. Lincolnwood, IL: VGM Career Horizons, 1990.

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