What to Expect in a Physical Therapist Career

October 10th, 2017

Considering a career in physical therapy? Simply put, a physical therapist career involves helping injured patients with their rehabilitation through individual treatment plans such as pain management and improving overall movement through hands-on therapy. Furthermore, this career also allows you to interact with all sorts of people within various types of work settings (hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, schools, sports and fitness facilities, etc.).

However, becoming a physical therapist is no easy task. In addition to the rigorous coursework and advanced education, there can be high burnout due to workload and working within the medical industry as a whole.

Below are various topics to know and consider when looking into a physical therapist career.

Education & Skill Set

First, you’ll need to get an education. Specifically, you must graduate from a physical therapist (PT) educational program with a Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.) degree in order to practice. These programs typically take 3 years to complete, but again, it depends on the school and their program.

But before PT school, you’ll need to obtain a bachelor’s degree (4 years) in order to apply for physical therapy programs in the U.S. Currently, there are over 200 programs in the U.S. that are accredited by Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Also, keep in mind that during your program you’ll also be required to complete clinical work and gain experience before entering the workforce.

Another important thing to keep in mind is licensing and certifications. You need to be licensed in order to obtain a job and will need to take the National Physical Therapy Exam, given by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Also, throughout your career, it’s important that you maintain your license by attending workshops and classes.

As for skill set, as a future physical therapist, it’s important to have and develop the following:

  • Compassion & interpersonal skills
  • Observation skills
  • Physical stamina
  • Organization skills
  • Resourcefulness skills

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected percent change in employment from 2014-2024 for physical therapist careers is 34%, which is much faster than the average (7%). The growing demand is partly due to the aging of baby boomers.

Job Duties & Employer Expectations

As a physical therapist, you are involved in diagnosing and creating a treatment plan for your patients. Typical duties of physical therapists include but are not limited to:

  • Consulting with patients
  • Developing treatment plans and diagnosing patient’s ailments
  • Teaching patients and their families exercise techniques
  • Upkeep patient’s paperwork, records and overall progress
  • Give treatment, a.k.a. hands-on therapy (exercises, stretching, etc.)

Most physical therapists work normal office hours (9-5) and may work evenings or weekends depending on the work environment (private practice vs. home healthcare services, etc.).

As far as employer expectations, the key will be your interpersonal and communication skills. In order to properly diagnose and develop a treatment plan, your patients need to be comfortable talking to you. Employers will also want employees that are strong in Microsoft Office and are very organized and detailed oriented along with being able to work independently. Lastly, employers want employees who can handle stressful work environments and can adapt to change.

Annual Salary

What is the annual salary for physical therapists? According the the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average annual wage for physical therapists in 2016 was $87,220. States with higher annual mean wages ($88,150 - $120,820) include: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

Keep these topics in mind as you begin the road towards becoming a certified physical therapist!

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