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How to Become a Physical Therapist

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Use Your Skills to Help the Injured or Ill

As a physical therapist, you can help patients improve their range of motion while managing their pain from injuries or disease. You’ll earn a good living at this profession and enjoy a bright future with the need rising for your skills. As an added bonus, you can also work part-time and have more time to spend with your children and family.

Job Description

Physical therapists provide care for a wide variety of functional problems associated with injuries, neurological disorders and other conditions that restrict the range of motion or cause pain. You’ll help patients to manage pain and increase their movement by teaching them to use equipment such as walkers, wheelchairs, canes or crutches. You’ll also limber the muscles, soft tissues and joints through specialized movements. You can get a sense of accomplishment through this type of job as you encourage healthier and more active lifestyles for your patients.

Education Requirements

You must first get a bachelor’s degree to gain admission to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. The bachelor’s degree is not specific to physical therapy, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you should have prerequisites in chemistry, biology, physiology, anatomy and physics.

Some programs take six to seven years to earn both your bachelor’s degree and your DPT upon graduation. Physical therapists also must complete 30 hours of clinical work to gain supervised experience in a hands-on setting.

After graduation, some physical therapists complete a residency program that lasts about one year to specialize in an area of care. After that, they can do additional, more specialized training by completing fellowships in advanced areas.

You’ll need to gain your certification by passing the National Physical Therapy Examination by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states also require a background check and a law exam to get your certification, and continuing education is usually required to keep your license. After you gain work experience, you can become a board-certified specialist by passing an exam and doing a minimum of 2,000 hours of work in your area of specialty. Or you can choose to complete an American Physical Therapy Association residency program in your area of specialty.

Industry

As a physical therapist, you have several areas to work in. The majority—33 percent—work in occupational and speech therapy, audiology and physical therapy offices. About 26 percent of physical therapists work in state, local and private hospitals, 10 percent work in home healthcare, and 7 percent work as self-employed and in nursing homes and residential care homes.

If you are a mother or about to be a mother, you will be interested to know that approximately one in five physical therapists work part-time. This can work well if you want more time at home with your children.

Years of Experience

Physical therapists earn a median wage of $85,400 annually. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $58,190, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $122,120. Work experience and level of education are factors that affect salary level.

You start out at an attractive salary as a physical therapist, and like most professions, your salary increases as you gain experience. The following is a projection of reported median salaries for increasing experience levels:

  • 0 to 5 years: $65,962
  • 5 to 10 years: $74,778
  • 10 to 20 years: $80,223
  • Over 20 years: $83,637

Job Growth Trend

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of physical therapists will grow 25 percent over the next decade. The demand for this profession is increasing due to the baby-boomer population aging and needing more PT services. Many chronic conditions also increase the need for physical therapists, as the conditions are more prevalent than in the past. These include diabetes and obesity.

Medical technology is also increasing the demand for physical therapists as the number of outpatient surgeries increases, as well as the number of trauma patients who are surviving. The job opportunities will be good for licensed physical therapists, especially in the areas where the elderly are treated, such as acute-care hospitals, orthopedic offices and skilled nursing facilities.