Two women in scrubs standing next to each other, discussing whether PTA school is harder than nursing.

Is PTA School Harder Than Nursing?

Both PTA school and nursing school have their own unique challenges and requirements. It ultimately depends on your personal preferences, strengths, and career goals.

Understanding Both Professions

Physical Therapist Assistants (PTAs) work under the supervision of physical therapists and assist patients with exercises and therapeutic activities. They provide assistance with mobility and rehabilitation. On the other hand, Registered Nurses (RNs) work in various healthcare settings and provide direct patient care, administer medication, and assist with treatments. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals to develop and implement care plans.

Comparing PTA and Nursing Education

The length of study differs between PTA and nursing programs. PTA programs typically last around 1-2 years, leading to an associate degree. Nursing programs, on the other hand, can range from 2-4 years and can lead to an associate or bachelor’s degree.

The curriculum and study load also vary between PTA and nursing programs. PTA programs focus on subjects like anatomy, physiology, therapeutic techniques, and clinical skills. Nursing programs cover a wide range of subjects, including anatomy, pharmacology, medical-surgical nursing, mental health, and more.

The Challenges in PTA School

One of the challenges in PTA school is the requirement for hands-on clinical experience. PTAs need to gain practical experience to develop their skills. This involves working directly with patients and implementing treatment plans under the guidance of a licensed physical therapist.

Physical demands are also a challenge in PTA school. PTAs may face physical challenges as they assist patients with mobility exercises and transfers. This can involve lifting patients, bending, and being on their feet for long periods of time.

The Challenges in Nursing School

In nursing school, clinical rotations can be a challenge. Nursing students must complete clinical rotations in various healthcare settings to gain practical experience. This involves working directly with patients, learning to provide care under supervision, and adapting to different healthcare environments.

Emotional stress is another challenge faced by nursing students. Nurses often deal with emotionally challenging situations, such as caring for critically ill patients or grieving families. This can take a toll on their mental and emotional well-being, requiring them to develop strong coping mechanisms.

Final Thoughts

Both PTA school and nursing school have their own unique challenges, but they also offer incredible opportunities for growth and fulfillment. As you navigate your career path, consider your own personal factors and make a choice that aligns with your passion, strengths, and career goals. Don’t be discouraged by the challenges you may face, as they can also serve as valuable learning experiences and opportunities for personal growth. Trust in yourself and your abilities, and know that with dedication, hard work, and a positive mindset, you can excel in either profession.

Making the Right Choice for You:

  • Research both professions to understand their scope of practice and potential career paths
  • Talk to professionals in both fields and shadow them to get a firsthand experience
  • Consider your personal circumstances, such as financial resources and time constraints


Q: How do job prospects differ for PTAs and nurses?
Job prospects for PTAs and nurses can vary based on factors such as location and demand. In general, both professions have good job prospects, as healthcare continues to grow and expand. However, research the job market in your specific area to get a better understanding of the demand for PTAs and nurses.

Q: Can I become a nurse after completing PTA school?
Yes, it is possible to become a nurse after completing PTA school. While the two professions have different scopes of practice, some individuals may choose to further their education and pursue a nursing degree after working as a PTA. However, additional education and training will be required to transition from PTA to RN.

Q: Do PTAs and nurses have similar salary ranges?
PTAs and nurses may have similar salary ranges, but the exact salaries can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and work setting. In general, registered nurses tend to have higher earning potential due to the additional education and responsibilities associated with the role.

Q: Can I work as a PTA and a nurse at the same time?
It is possible to work as both a PTA and a nurse, but it may require careful scheduling and time management. However, note that there may be restrictions or limitations imposed by your employer or licensing boards regarding working in multiple roles. It’s best to check with your employer and local regulatory agencies for specific guidelines.

Q: Are there opportunities for advancement in both PTA and nursing careers?
There are opportunities for advancement in both PTA and nursing careers. PTAs may choose to specialize in areas such as orthopedics, pediatrics, or geriatrics, which can lead to increased responsibilities and higher salaries. Nurses can pursue advanced degrees, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), to become nurse practitioners, nurse educators, or nurse administrators.

Q: Are there any specific certifications or licenses required for PTAs and nurses?
Yes, both PTAs and nurses must be licensed to practice. PTAs must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam for PTAs (NPTE-PTA) and fulfill state-specific requirements. Nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and meet the licensing requirements of their state nursing board. Additionally, both professions may have opportunities for further certification in specialized areas of practice.

Q: Are there any specific continuing education requirements for PTAs and nurses?
Yes, both PTAs and nurses are required to complete continuing education to maintain their licenses and stay updated on current practices. The specific requirements can vary by state and professional organization. Continuing education can include courses, workshops, conferences, or online learning modules.

Q: Can PTAs and nurses work in different healthcare settings?
Yes, both PTAs and nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings. PTAs may find employment in hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, or skilled nursing facilities. Nurses can work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools, or even in patients’ homes through home healthcare agencies.

Q: Are there any specific personality traits or skills that are beneficial for PTAs and nurses?
Both PTAs and nurses can benefit from having excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Compassion, empathy, and the ability to work well in a team are also important. Additionally, attention to detail, problem-solving abilities, and the ability to adapt to different situations are valuable traits for both professions.

Q: Can I start as a PTA and then pursue a nursing career later?
Yes, it is possible to start as a PTA and then pursue a nursing career later. Many individuals choose to start as a PTA to gain experience in the healthcare field and then continue their education to become a registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN). Transitioning from a PTA to a nursing role will require additional education and training, typically including completing a nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN licensing examination.