Becoming a Physical Therapist
Many people suffer from physical disabilities, injuries, illnesses, and other health conditions that limit their mobility. Thankfully, the work of a physical therapist can help improve lives by restoring mobility, relieving pain, and often preventing future physical limitations. After a debilitating illness or injury, individuals and families alike find hope in the work of a physical therapist—hope that they or their family member will once again be able to function normally. Physical therapists have an extremely gratifying profession—they are continually working to improve the lives of others.
Physical Therapy Job Description
Physical therapists (sometimes called PTs) are licensed to treat people of all ages who have mobility issues commonly caused by injury, illness, or advanced age. Conditions a PT might treat include sprains and fractures, injuries from work or sports, stroke, and back/neck injuries, just to name a few. Additionally, many patients are elderly and suffering from physical limitations, and many see a PT to prevent these limitations in the future.
Upon meeting a new patient, a physical therapist first performs an examination to diagnose the existing physical limitations. Next, the PT will develop a program to alleviate pain and restore movement to the patient’s body. This includes performing, teaching, and demonstrating exercises and massages to patients, and sometimes to their family members. The PT will also perform follow-up examinations, tracking and recording progress, adjusting treatments as needed, and doing everything possible to restore mobility.
A physical therapist’s job can be physically demanding, requiring large amounts of standing, kneeling, bending, and lifting in order to test patients’ movement and demonstrate exercise or stretching routines.
Physical Therapy Requirements and Certification
A licensed physical therapist is a highly educated, experienced professional. All PTs must receive a graduate degree, such as a Master’s or doctoral degree, to obtain a license. It is essential for potential physical therapists to apply to programs approved by the American Physical Therapy Association. Along with personal study and effort, these programs should provide students with the extensive knowledge and training they need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam. In addition, most states require an American Physical Therapy Association accredited education in order to become licensed to practice. There are many schools with excellent programs available. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 12 accredited Master’s degree programs and 200 accredited doctorate programs in the year 2009.
Although the above requirements are needed to begin practicing, a physical therapist’s learning never really ends. Developments are continually made in the field and continuing education will provide the PT with opportunities to improve their practice and advance in the field. Also, some states require that PTs receive continued education to remain licensed.
Physical Therapy Schools and Programs
As stated before, there are many accredited schools available in universities throughout the United states. To increase the likelihood of acceptance into physical therapy programs, it is highly recommended for prospective students to have strong backgrounds in science (biology, anatomy, physics, etc.), behavioral science, and medicine. In addition, many schools urge or require students to gain experience in the field through volunteer work before admission.
Upon admittance, an accredited Master’s degree in physical therapy will take about 2–2.5 years to complete, while a doctoral degree program’s duration is about 3 years. These programs will cover a vast amount of knowledge and training, including extensive science and behavioral science courses which aid physical therapists in understanding the human body and how it functions. Also, clinically-based courses are required to prepare students for diagnosis and treatment in the real world. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, students will practice in the field on actual patients, under the supervision of an instructor or licensed PT.
Physical Therapy Jobs
There are a wide variety of physical therapy jobs available. Most commonly, PTs will work in hospitals or outpatient clinics. Some choose to open a private practice dedicated to their specialized work. Others will work for assisted living and nursing facilities, home services, rehabilitation centers, or in schools. Some choose to teach or perform academic research in the field.
With the increased elderly population and continued occurrence of illness, injury, and physical disabilities in the general population, physical therapy jobs are currently in demand.
Physical Therapy Training
Although there may be a small amount of on the job training, most physical therapists receive the work-related experience they need during their period of schooling.
Physical Therapist Average Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 the median salary of a physical therapist was $72,000 per year. About half of practicing PTs earned between $60,300 and $85,540. Physical therapists were reported to earn as low as $50,350 and as high as $104,350, on average . However, physical therapists’ wages may also vary depending on the area of practice, amount of experience, and work location.