Physical Therapy Majors: Salary and Career Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in physical therapy. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Physical Therapy Major?

Students who concentrate their undergraduate and/or graduate studies in the field of physical therapy are physical therapy majors. Their studies focus on the functions of the human body that pertain to movement and how to help individuals struggling with illness, injury or disability regain physical abilities. Physical therapy majors learn how different stretching techniques and exercises can improve motor functions. Those with a physical therapy major often pursue a career as a physical therapy assistant or a physical therapist. Below is a table with details related to these careers.

Physical Therapy AssistantPhysical Therapists
Degree Required Associate's degree Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
Education Field of Study Physical therapy assistant Physical therapy
Key Responsibilities Assist patient with performing exercises; observe patient during therapy and report progress to therapist; employ massage, stretching and devices to heal injured or impaired area; advise patient and family about treatment and lifestyle requirements Review patient history and referrals from physician; observe patient move and diagnose dysfunction; devise plan of therapy and periodically revise in response to patient's progress; administer therapy and teach patient to perform prescribed exercises
Licensure and/or Certification All states except Hawaii require physical therapy assistants to be licensed All states require physical therapists to be licensed; board certification in physical therapy specialties is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 40%* 34%*
Median Salary (2015) $55,170* $84,020*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Jobs Can I Obtain with a Physical Therapy Degree?

With an advanced physical therapy degree and licensure, you can become a physical therapist, or PT for short. With only undergraduate education, you can become a physical therapist assistant, aiding in treatments for patients. Whether you want to work in a hospital, private practice or a clinic, you'll be able to work with patients to prevent and heal injuries that hinder movement in the body.

What Tasks Might I Perform?

As a physical therapy assistant, you'll help clinical physical therapists instruct patients to complete various therapeutic exercises. You'll also help physical therapists with various clerical tasks, including record keeping. You may find yourself working with patients and families to discuss injuries and disorders, measure the severity of an injury and even complete some treatments under the watch of clinical physical therapists.

Physical therapists also work with clients and families to discuss injuries, though their work goes further into clinical areas than that of an assistant. As a PT, you may use diagnostic medical imaging technology to determine the severity of injuries. You'll learn to apply massage techniques and stretches as well as utilizing strength training exercises to heal injuries and physical disorders. You'll also use lotions, gels and patches that provide pain relief to patients.

How Much Can I Make?

As of May of 2015, physical therapy assistants made a median salary of $55,170, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( The BLS also notes that licensed physical therapists made a yearly median salary of $84,020. Depending on where you live, your salary can be higher. The five highest paying states for physical therapists to work in are Nevada, Alaska, Texas, California and New Jersey.

What Programs in Physical Therapy Are Available?

Associate degrees serve as the basic credential necessary for work as a physical therapy assistant. These degrees are generally offered in Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science formats. Also, most states require licensure to become a physical therapy assistant, so check with your state's board.

Bachelor's degrees are the least common of the four degree levels. They can, however, prepare students for immediate transfer to a doctoral program, with the appropriate prerequisite coursework. For those colleges that do offer bachelor's degrees focusing in physical therapy, students may study biology, anatomy, kinesiology, motor skills and physical development.

To enter the field as a professional physical therapist, you'll need to complete an entry-level physical therapy program. Two options are available for this requirement: the Master of Physical Therapy and the far more common Doctor of Physical Therapy. According to the BLS, over 200 accredited professional physical therapy programs are offered across the U.S., with the vast majority being DPT programs. DPT programs are typically three years in length, about 4-12 months of which are dedicated to clinical experiences. If you choose the MPT program, you'll study for about two years and will be eligible for licensure, though the DPT carries a more thorough curriculum.

Currently, every state requires you to become licensed through the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is overseen by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some of the subjects you may encounter during your graduate study are pathokinesiology, therapeutic technology, neurological disorders, pediatrics therapy, geriatrics therapy and clinical study.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Physical therapists perform many tasks that are comparable to the work of occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists. Occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists only need a master's degree, though, but they may work with similar clientele. They diagnose issues that are affecting a patient's abilities and then develop a treatment plan that's intended to help them improve their performance in the affected areas. Occupational therapists focus on helping people regain the ability to complete basic tasks, such as using a pencil, fork or spoon or buttoning clothes. Speech-language pathologists work with individuals who have difficulty producing specific sounds, or who may have choking problems.

Occupational therapy assistants perform many tasks that are comparable to the duties of a physical therapy assistant. They need an associate's degree, and they help patients complete exercises that have been prescribed as part of their treatment plan.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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