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Physical Therapist - Career Profile

Everything You Need To Understand The World Of PTs


Physical Therapist - Career Profile

NIAMS Physical Therapy Following Joint Surgery

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Physical therapists work in a branch of healthcare specialty much like similar therapy specialists including occupational therapists, speech therapists and massage therapists. As you might guess from the name, a physical therapist's job includes helping patient's that have physical and functional limitations.

Physical therapists treat people of all ages, including children, adults, elderly, and athletes.

A physical therapist will evaluate a patient based on the type of illness or injury they have and recommend a treatment program accordingly.

There are many common types of problems that physical therapists treat. These may include but are not limited to:

A physical therapist may recommend many different treatment modalities depending on the severity of a patient's illness or injury. These may include: recommending strategies and techniques for reducing and eliminating pain and reducing stiffness; exercises for improving mobility and increasing strength; and techniques for reducing inflammation and swelling. Often therapists incorporate the use of various technologies including ultrasound, laser therapy, and electronic stimulation.

While most physical therapy occurs in a physical therapist practice, it does not have to. Many physical therapists provide services in other settings.

For example, some provide home care, still other physical therapists practice in long-term care facilities that cater to elderly patients, while others practice in hospitals, in sport centers, and even in schools. Why schools? State law dictates that children receive physical therapy in their school if they have a movement impairment that affects their functionality.

Qualities of Physical Therapists

Successful physical therapists are those that exhibit a wide range of qualities.

Physical therapists require many hard and soft skills:

  • Problem solving. Physical therapists are faced with many problems that require good problem solving skills.

  • Compassion. Most physical therapists become therapists because they have a strong will to help others.

  • Organization and Observation. Physical therapists have good organizational skills and good observational skills that allow them to diagnose and evaluate their patient's problems.

  • Relationship Building. Physical therapists must have exceptional people skills, and the ability to create and form long-lasting relationships with clients.

  • Endurance. Physical therapists often have to stand for long periods of time, and have the strength and fortitude to work with their patients for long periods of time.

Educational Requirements

Physical therapists must be licensed in their state to practice. Most will have a master's degree while some will further their education and receive a clinical doctorate from an accredited school specializing in healthcare. A Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree (DPT) typically requires three full years of study, while a Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) typically requires from two to three years of study.

Physical therapists often have to take additional classes that will prepare them to understand the basic biomechanics of the body and movement including biomechanics, physiology, pharmacology, and neuroscience. If you have already taken these classes from an accredited university, you are well on your way to becoming a licensed physical therapist!

As part of an accredited physical therapist program, students typically complete clinical rotations which provide valuable classroom experience in various clinical settings. This is an ideal time to practice hands on techniques including stretching and massage to treat patients with acute injuries.

Students completing their Master and Doctorate may apply to complete residency programs at various programs following graduation. This is a perfect opportunity to practice what you have learned and establish a field of expertise. Most residencies vary in length, but traditionally last between nine months up to three years. This is a great way to advance your training and gain expertise in the field.

Salary Information

Physical therapist salaries vary widely depending on the area of specialty and the setting in which a physical therapist works. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics some physical therapists working in assisted living centers and other non-profit agencies can earn less than $53,000. However the highest 10% of earners working in private practices and some hospitals may earn more than $100,000. The average median income of physical therapists earns more than $76,000 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Outlook

Physical therapy is an outstanding career to embark on! The employment outlook for physical therapists is expected to increase much faster than average compared with all other occupations through 2020. Medical technology has created outstanding opportunities for physical therapists. How? Technological advances have allowed more patients to undergo surgeries that were not available in times past; this has increased rehabilitative needs in outpatient centers in in hospitals; among patients of all ages, from newborns through the elderly.

As technology continues to advance, the odds are high even more opportunities will abound for physical therapists eager to explore careers in specialty fields of therapy and rehabilitation.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Physical Therapists, on the Internet at: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm (visited February 04, 2013)

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