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Becoming a physical therapist means earning a doctoral degree in physical therapy. The time it will take varies, but most people start out with a four-year undergraduate program, and then move into either a doctorate or master’s degree track. Doctorates take about three years to complete, while master's take from two to three years. From there, you may decide to become a physical therapist specialist, and you have eight options for specialties as of 2012.
The sports PT certification demonstrates your aptitude in sports rehabilitation. For the most part, you’ll assist athletes recovering from sports-related injuries. To qualify for this designation, you must hold a CPR certification and meet the emergency care requirement, which can include a certificate as a first responder, EMT, paramedic or certified athletic trainer. You must also have 2,000 hours of direct patient care or must have completed a post-professional sports clinical residency.
The pediatrics PT certification qualifies you to treat infants, children and teens with diseases, conditions and injuries that affect their mobility and physical activity. To qualify for this designation, you must have 2,000 hours of direct patient care in pediatrics or must have completed a post professional pediatric clinical residency.
The orthopedic PT certification qualifies you to treat congenital disorders or injuries that cause physical dysfunction or pain. In collaboration with a doctor or surgeon, you establish an exercise or rehabilitation plan that can increase a patient’s mobility or decrease a patient’s pain. These plans may also help a patient heal after an injury or surgical procedure. Like pediatrics, you must have at least 2,000 hours of direct patient care in orthopedics or must have completed a post-professional orthopedic clinical residency.
With a neurologic PT certificate, your primary care focus will be on patients with mobility problems due to diseases, congenital conditions and injuries of the nervous system. You’ll work with a physician to improve or restore physical function for a patient. To qualify for the exam, you must have 2,000 hours of direct patient care in neurology, such as evaluation and diagnosis of neurological disorders, or completed a post-professional neurologic clinical residency.
The geriatrics PT certification qualifies you to work with elderly patients, dealing with conditioins that include Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, osteoporosis or arthritis. Like any other specialty, you design an exercise or rehabilitation program to improve, restore or maintain a person’s mobility. To qualify for the exam, you must have 2,000 hours of direct patient care in geriatrics or must have completed a post-professional geriatrics clinical residency.
Cardiovascular & Pulmonary
As a cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapist, you’ll work with patients recovering or living with cardiopulmonary disorders. You’ll come up with exercise or rehabilitation programs to improve a patient’s endurance, strength and physical function. To sit for this certification exam, you must hold an Advanced Cardiac Life Support certificate and have either 2,000 hours of direct cardiovascular and pulmonary patient care or a post-professional cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical residency.
The women’s health PT certification qualifies you to work with women dealing with conditions such as incontinence, lymphedema, prolapsed pelvic floor, osteoporosis and pelvic pain. You may also work with some complications associated with pregnancy, including pain and post-surgical delivery. To qualify for this designation, you must have 2,000 hours of direct patient care in women’s health or must have completed a post professional women’s health clinical residency.
The clinical electrophysiology PT certification qualifies you to use electrotherapy and other therapeutic technologies to treat mobility issues and to manage associated pain. To qualify for the exam, you must have a minimum of 2,000 hours of direct patient care in electrophysiology, with at least 500 electroneuromygraphy examinations within these hours.
2016 Salary Information for Physical Therapists
Physical therapists earned a median annual salary of $85,400 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physical therapists earned a 25th percentile salary of $70,680, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $100,880, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 239,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physical therapists.
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- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Physical Therapists
- American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties: Minimum Eligibility Requirements and General Information for All Physical Therapist Specialist Certification Examinations
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physical Therapists
- Career Trend: Physical Therapists
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.