Physical therapists treat patients and teach them how to manage their conditions to live with greater mobility and less pain. In the past, physical therapists earned either a bachelor's or master's degree in the field. Under new regulations, training is a three-year, post-baccalaureate program culminating in the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. The average new physical therapist salary is $84,141 annually.
Physical therapists work with patients of all ages to restore, maintain and promote optimal physical functioning. Patients may be limited in function due to injury, defect or medical condition. Physical therapists use their expertise to design treatment plans unique to each individual under their care. In addition to evaluating and supervising a patient's movements, the physical therapist may manipulate joints and muscles as part of the treatment.
The first step to becoming a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) is earning a bachelor's degree. Although there is no formal requirement for a major, students must have completed courses in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology and exercise physiology. Students must also take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and obtain three letters of recommendation attesting to their academic achievement and aptitude for a profession in health care. Each school has its own requirements for minimum grade-point average and GRE score. Admissions are competitive. All applications for DPT programs, regardless of the school you're hoping to attend, are made through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).
DPT programs require full-time study in residence. Students participate in lecture and laboratory courses in anatomy and physiology. They undertake supervised clinical practice over several semesters, culminating in a clinical internship.
DPTs must have a license in the state in which they practice. Requirements vary somewhat from state-to-state, so be sure to check with your academic adviser for specifics. Most states require continuing education to maintain licensure and ensure the practitioner is up-to-date with the latest research on human anatomy and physiology as applied to physical therapy.
Doctors of physical therapy work in a variety of settings, including hospitals and medical centers, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, sports and recreation facilities, schools, outpatient clinics and home health agencies. Approximately 21 percent of physical therapists work in private practice, either as solo practitioners or part of a group. Physical therapists report a high level of job satisfaction.
Years of Experience and Salary
On average, a DPT salary starts at $82,657 after graduation. The doctor of physical therapy salary typically ranges from $77,510 to $91,296 but varies according to geographic location, years of experience, certification and additional skills.
Job Growth Trend
The job outlook for physical therapists is excellent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 28 percent increase in demand through 2026, a growth rate much faster than average when compared to all other jobs. Demand for physical therapists will come from the aging of the baby-boom generation as well as the mobility issues created with the higher incidence of diabetes and obesity.