A physical therapist is a health care professional who specializes in helping patients to recover quickly from injuries, to reduce pain, and improve or restore mobility. A physical therapist’s work can reduce healing time and the need for surgery or medications. It can also be an extremely rewarding career.
As a physical therapist you will work with each patient to develop a plan for their treatment. You may also be involved in developing fitness programs to help people prevent a loss of mobility before it occurs.
To become a physical therapist you must obtain a graduate degree in a physical therapy course that is accredited by CAPTE, the Commission for Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.
The American Physical Therapy Association offers a great deal of information on the training requirements and links to an accredited course directory.
At present almost 200 colleges and universities in the U.S. offer physical therapy graduate degrees. Of these, 96 percent offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree and the rest are planning to offer the DPT as soon as the master’s level courses are being phased out.
New physical therapy students must study for the DPT degree, usually after at least 3 years of education at undergraduate level. The DPT course typically runs for 3 years and includes a wide range of subjects including anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, histology, pharmacology, kinesiology, neuroscience, ethics/values, and evidence-based practice.
You will also need to satisfy requirements for hands-on clinical practice with patients, which comprises 20 percent of the course. The final clinical experience is on average 27.5 weeks.
At the completion of your training you must also pass the national licensure examination and meet any additional requirements in the state in which you plan to work.
Finding a Job
If you are looking for a job as a physical therapist or assistant, good places to look are websites of orthopedic sports medicine specialists in your local area. These openings are not always advertised elsewhere.
Another good source of information on job openings is the APTA website.
According to APTA only 0.2 percent of physical therapists are unemployed, and employment opportunities are growing faster on average for physical therapists than for all other occupations. With the numbers expected to grow by 30 percent between 2008 and 2018, the prospects for physical therapists have never been better.
Salary and Conditions
APTA average salary for physical therapists in the U.S. in 2013 was $80,000, but the salary varies depending on factors such as years of experience, practice setting, and geographic location.
Physical therapists may work in many settings including clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, private practices, workplaces, schools, sports facilities, and nursing homes. It is a career offering plenty of variety and the rewards that come with helping people to recover from injuries or to reduce their pain and suffering.