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How Do Nurses and Physical Therapists Interact?

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Physical therapy and nursing are two of the most popular health professions as of 2010. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these two fields account for almost 3 million jobs. These two areas are very different, but nurses and physical therapists interact closely on a routine basis. This interaction ensures that the patient physically recovers as much as the patient's condition allows, and that the patient goes through this recovery efficiently and safely.

Nurse to Therapist

Nurses provide the physical therapist with copies of the patient's medical records and formal diagnosis, along with any other items that the physical therapist may find useful, such as X-rays. Nurses may arrange when the physical therapist helps the patient, depending on what care the patient is receiving. For example, they may arrange to have the therapist visit the patient in the morning if the patient relays to the nurse that their pain or discomfort is worst at that time. In the case that the nurse is the patient's primary care provider, the nurse may be completely responsible for deciding whether to use physical therapy at all.

Therapist to Nurse

Therapists often rely on data from the nurse to get a picture of what therapy may be best. For example, some medications may impact blood pressure, so therapists may check with the nurse before making the patient engage in a vigorous activity. They contact the nurse to find out what room the patient is in or whether the patient will need inpatient or outpatient treatments. They may ask the nurse to assist with transporting the patient to the physical therapy room, lifting the patient onto equipment or monitoring the patient's pain level during therapy. After therapy, the therapist checks back in with the nurse to see how the therapy has impacted the patient.


Nurses and physical therapists may have conflicting views on how to treat a patient. In these cases, nurses and physical therapists may consult with other medical personnel to have a doctor or administrator make the final decision on how to proceed. Ideally, nurses and physical therapists are able to resolve these conflicts professionally through rational discussions and don't take the conflicts personally.


Nurses and physical therapists work together to figure out what new devices or techniques need to be developed to help patients. Nurses, for example, may report a specific kind of physical injury associated with a particular condition so that therapists can address that one issue by designing a new machine.


Physical therapists and nurses move within the same professional networks. For example, they may attend the same conference on how to recognize signs of patient distress, and they even may go to the same colleges. This means that they can transfer professional information to each other very easily and that they can offer great amounts of assistance when warranted.


Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website,, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.

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