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Very few people explore the career path of being a physical therapist but actually, it is a very amazing and lucrative profession and service to humanity. If you intend following this career path, you must know specific things like what does a Physical Therapist do? What is the fastest way to become a physical therapist and types of jobs in the physical therapist area?
Becoming a physical therapist requires years of education and training in areas such as kinesiology, anatomy, biology, and physical fitness. Many physical therapists also receive extensive training in patient psychology to better understand and help clients cope with the emotional challenges associated with a physical ailment.
Who Is a Physical Therapist?
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) describes physical therapists External link as “movement experts who optimize the quality of life through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.”
Physical therapists help their patients find relief in several ways, generally involving the movement of the body in the form of exercises.
What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Physical therapists work with patients of all kinds and ages to help them gain mobility. PTs often work in hospitals, clinics, or assisted-living centres. A typical patient portfolio may include athletes recovering from sports-related injuries, children managing chronic conditions, or ageing patients trying to maintain their independence.
Physical therapists customize a care plan to meet each patient’s needs, assessing balance, coordination, strength, and overall health. From there, they use a variety of methods, including strength training, massage, dry needling, and wellness education.
Becoming a physical therapist is a great way to help others lead a rewarding life. It is a good fit career for anyone who likes working with people, using their body, studying anatomy, and solving problems creatively.
The following guide answers questions like these and offers detailed insight into the various academic paths one can take to become a physical therapist.
How to Become a Physical Therapist
The work of physical therapists touches people from all walks of life at any age. They may work with someone in an assisted living facility that was just released from the hospital after breaking a hip, or a professional athlete who suffered a torn ligament at his last big game.
As the population ages, yet remain active, physical therapists will see continued opportunities to advance within the field, as well as enter this field right out of completing their education requirements. This begins with earning a degree from an accredited college or university.
Physical Therapist Education Degree Requirements
Most master’s and doctoral physical therapy programs require students to first earn a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy or a very closely related healthcare field. However, some schools offer a combined undergraduate/doctoral degree program that allows students to graduate with both a bachelor’s and doctoral degrees.
Undergraduate students who volunteer at hospitals or clinics gain valuable experience while observing licensed professionals. Volunteering is also typically required for admission into doctoral programs.
All individuals must earn a doctoral degree in physical therapy (DPT) to practice as a physical therapist. To illustrate how fast this field is growing, there were more than 200 physical therapy programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) in 2015 alone. DPT programs typically last at least three years.
Alongside seven months of supervised experience in a clinical setting, coursework at the doctoral level usually includes lab and classroom instruction in medical diagnostics, patient examination, patient evaluation, orthotics, prosthetics, and medical screening.
Clinical experience is unmatched in preparing therapists for careers in which they interact with clients every day, as well as providing valuable time in the trenches that can lead to full-time employment upon graduation.
Therapists who wish to specialize in a particular area can apply to and complete a residency program, which usually lasts about one year and provides additional on-the-job training.
The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) offers eight designations for physical therapists seeking advancement in the field. The eight specialities include:
- Sports – both amateur and professional athletics
- Clinical electrophysiology
- Cardiovascular & pulmonary
- Women’s health
Therapists applying for ABPTS certification must have at least 2,000 hours of practice, must be licensed, and must pass a certification exam that measures the skills and knowledge in their speciality.
Physical therapists must be licensed in the state where they wish to practice. After completing an accredited physical therapy program, individuals must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy to become licensed. The examination assesses an applicant’s knowledge in practice, physical therapy theory, and consultation.
Many physical therapists complete their residency after graduating from a DPT program. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), programs include 1,500 hours of clinical physical therapy practice to be completed within nine to 36 months.
Residencies allow individuals to diagnose and examine patients under the direct supervision of a licensed physical therapist(s). Individuals will often also contribute to medical research and supervise other healthcare professionals while in residency.
Physical Therapist Salary
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapists earn an annual median salary of $84,020 (2015). Wage expectations depend on the level of education, geographic location, and industry or sector with the lowest 10-per cent earning $57,060, and the highest 10-per cent earning upwards of $119,000.
The top five areas for employment in order of demand, are home healthcare services, nursing, and residential care facilities, hospitals (state, local and private), private offices, and offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists, and audiologists.
Most physical therapists work full-time, 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, although it’s not uncommon that some, especially those who work with patients in their homes, may work weekends and overtime.
Job Opportunities for Physical Therapist
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment opportunities for physical therapists will grow 36 per cent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average of all occupations.
The overall demand is expected to stem from the increase in physical therapy services for ageing baby boomers. The ageing population is more likely to suffer from heart attacks, strokes, and injuries affecting mobility, all of which can require physical therapy as part of rehabilitation.
More cases of patients with chronic conditions such as obesity and asthma are also expected, and physical therapists will be needed to help patients maintain their mobility.
Major advances in medical technology will also likely play a role in the increased need for PTs, as survival rates increase for trauma victims and newborns with birth defects.
These patients will require rehabilitative care to recover from surgeries. The Affordable Care Act may also increase the number of individuals with access to physical therapy services.