Physical Therapist Career Guide

Overview

Physical therapists help those that have been injured or have ailments that prevent them from functioning at an optimal level. As a physical therapist, you will not only provide aid to clients who have been injured as a result of work and sports, you may also assist those who have a temporary or permanent disability that prevents them from functioning properly. In addition, you may teach your clients how to stretch and condition their bodies in the correct manner, thus preventing future injuries.

If you are interested in entering the field of physical therapy, you will need to commit to years of schooling and training. You will also need to be licensed and certified to treat people for their injuries and ailments. As a physical therapist, you will be able to choose a specialization such as: a sports injury physical trainer, vehicular injury (car accident) physical trainer or neurological (nerve damage) physical trainer. It is important to note that acquiring a specialization in physical therapy is not easy, but if you are willing to devote the time it takes to accomplish this task, it will be well worth your effort.

Educational Requirements

If you are interested in becoming a physical therapist, you will need to graduate from high school and receive a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy, physical education, anatomy, chemistry, biology or a related field. You will also need to acquire a graduate (Master of Physical Therapy (MPT)) and/or a postgraduate degree (Doctor of Physical Therapy – DPT) in order to practice as a physical therapist. Your master’s program may take approximately two to three years to complete. If you decide to pursue a doctorate in physical therapy, it may take up to seven years to complete, although you will probably be able to finish in three to four years.

While in your graduate and/or postgraduate physical therapy program, you will be required to take courses in the following areas: anatomy, neuroscience, biomechanics, physiology and pharmacology. You will also be expected to participate in a supervised clinical internship, which will provide you with hands-on experience working with diverse injuries and ailments in a real-life setting. Once you have graduated from your degree programs, you will eligible to begin your residency. You can expect to complete your residency in approximately two to three years. During residency, you will receive additional training and gain invaluable experience working with a variety of people and injuries.

Licensure and Certification

You must be licensed to practice as a physical therapist in the United States. Licensure requirements vary from state-to-state, but all states will require you to pass either the National Physical Therapy Examination or a similar state-administered licensure exam before you can provide services to clients. Furthermore, some states will require that you maintain your license by enrolling in continued education courses every two to three years. After you have worked as a physical therapist for a few years, you may decide to seek certification in a specialized area (pediatric, sports injuries, etc.). If you plan to become certified in a specialized area, you will need to pass a certification exam.

Job Duties

Your duties as a physical therapist may include the following:

  • Diagnosing physical impairments and/or disabilities (by observing your client as he/she walks and/or stands and listening to his/her concerns)
  • Creating a treatment plan that is right for your client
  • Teaching your client stretching exercises that can help ease pain and restore his/her body to an optimal and/or manageable level.
  • Assessing your client’s progress (changing his/her treatment plan, if need be).
  • Educating your client and his/her family about what is to be expected during therapy and teaching them how to effectively manage your client’s condition.

Salary

As a physical therapist, you can expect to make approximately $78,000 per year. If you fall into the lower 10%, you are expected to make approximately $55,000 per year, while if you fall in the upper 10%, you can expect to make approximately $110,000 per year (bls.gov). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), there were approximately 200,000 physical therapy jobs in 2010. If you become a physical therapist, you will primarily work at a private practice, hospital, clinic, skilled nursing facility and/or professional gym. You will also spend the majority of your time on our feet moving around. It is important to note that it may be beneficial to have your own practice, if possible.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for physical therapy jobs is good, especially in acute hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, rural areas and orthopedic settings (where elderly people are treated). In fact, the field of physical therapy is expected to grow approximately 40% percent by 2020. The demand for physical therapy will stem from aging baby boomers, who are working later than previous generations. The elderly population has a higher risk of experiencing strokes, heart attacks and/or mobility-related injuries that require physical therapy survives.  In addition, there has been a rise in chronic diseases (diabetes, lupus, hypertension, asthma, etc.) in the last decade. Chronic illnesses have spurred the need for physical therapist to help with management of these conditions.

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