How to Become a Physical Therapist?

About Physical Therapists

Physical therapists help patients recover from injuries, illnesses, and other conditions that impact their movement abilities. A physical therapist evaluates each patient’s individual needs and helps him or her to restore the range of movement as much as possible. As a physical therapist, you might help stroke patients regain basic movements or assist young athletes in recovering safely so they don’t damage their future possibilities in sports.

If you’re looking for a career in the healthcare field that will give you close contact with a wide range of patients, this is an excellent choice. You’ll help patients improve both their fitness and overall wellness after facing various challenges.

Education and Experience Needed

To become a physical therapist, you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). This three-year degree program is available to students who have completed a bachelor’s degree and the necessary prerequisites. You should choose a bachelor’s degree program in a relevant field such as anatomy, physics, or biology. 

Some schools offer an integrated program for college freshmen that helps students obtain both a bachelor’s and a DPT in six or seven years. These are typically available through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).

As part of your training for a DPT, you must complete a minimum of 30 weeks of clinical work. After graduation, physical therapists do a one-year residency. Those who want to work in a specialized area will then go on to complete additional training in this specialty. Specialized certifications are available in nine areas through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists. Therapists must complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical work in their specialty within 10 years or complete a specialized residency program for certification in a particular area of physical therapy.

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The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy administers the Physical Therapy Examination. All therapists must pass this exam to practice in the United States. Additional licensing requirements may apply depending on the state you want to work in. 

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Average Salary

Physical therapists enjoy a median annual salary of $85,400. Those with earnings in the top 10 percent make more than $122,130, while those in the bottom 10 percent earn less than $58,190. Home health services is the highest paying industry for physical therapists, with a median salary of $93,200. Nursing and residential care facilities also pay well, with a median salary of $92,960.

The job outlook for physical therapists is strong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for this occupation is expected to increase 25 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is much faster than the national average of just 7 percent for all occupations in the United States.

Average Duties and Tasks

Physical therapists help patients recover from injury, illness, or other conditions by helping them regain lost movement and manage pain. These therapists focus on developing an effective plan for treatment and rehabilitation. They also educate patients on the safest recovery techniques to prevent future injuries.

A typical day for a physical therapist working with a diverse selection of patients may include:

  • Diagnosing movement issues

  • Establishing movement goals with patients

  • Evaluating patients’ pain levels

  • Developing exercise plans uniquely tailored to the patient with specialized stretches and moves

  • Evaluating patients’ progress

  • Helping patients understand the recovery process and offering valuable information and tools for success

Physical therapists can work with a variety of issues ranging from common sprains and strains to symptoms associated with severe neurological disorders. The therapist may help injured athletes regain the appropriate range of movement for their sport or assist someone with a spinal injury who is re-learning how to walk. Every day presents a new challenge.

Advancement Opportunities

If you’re interested in advancing your career as a physical therapist, there are many options available to you. If you didn’t begin your career with a specialty, pursuing one later is an excellent way to enhance your work and gain access to more specialized job opportunities. Those who are interested in leadership might take on a role as program director, supervisor, or clinic director.

Perhaps you’re not cut out to be someone else’s boss, but you’d like to be your own. Physical therapy is a career you can practice independently. You might open your own private practice for the chance to take more control of your schedule, patient list, and perks.

Physical therapy is an excellent choice for those who enjoy being in close contact with others and helping them achieve their goals. Get started in this healthcare field with the right degree program to get on your path to success.