Physiotherapist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for physiotherapists. Learn about the licensure and education requirements, job duties, and salary to find out if this is the career path for you. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Physiotherapist?

Physiotherapists, also called physical therapists, help patients suffering from injuries and medical conditions that restrict their movement and cause pain. For patients who are injured, physical therapists teach them rehabilitation exercises and apply therapeutic techniques to reduce their pain and help them achieve the fullest possible recovery. For patients with chronic conditions, physical therapists come up with an exercise and therapy plan to keep their pain as low as possible and to help them improve their ability to perform daily tasks. Depending on the patient's condition, they may work in close coordination with other members of their healthcare team, such as doctors and surgeons, in order to ensure continuity of care.

The following chart describes what could be expected from a career in this field.

Degree Required Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
Education Field of Study Physiology, physical therapy
Licensure Required, specifics vary by state
Certification Optional
Median Salary (2015) $84,020*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Duties Will I Have As a Physiotherapist?

As a physiotherapist, you will devise and implement an individualized treatment plan for each patient. The therapy you provide could consist of manually manipulating the patient's joints, overseeing exercises, giving massages, applying heat or ice, or using electrotherapy.

As a physiotherapist, you will fix impairments that are the lingering results of accidents or sports injuries, provide post-surgery rehabilitation, and treat patients who are debilitated by strokes. You may also work with patients who are afflicted with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Some physiotherapists formulate preventative fitness and health plans for healthy patients.

Where Might I Work?

You might practice in a hospital, but there are numerous other possible work locations. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) estimated that more than 80% of physiotherapists work at sites other than hospitals. This includes seeing patients at medical offices, hospices, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, sports or fitness centers, outpatient facilities, schools and government agencies. You might also choose to start your own physiotherapy business.

What Education Do I Need?

If you are interested in becoming a physiotherapist, you should enroll in a master's or doctoral program accredited by APTA's Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education. In order to enter a graduate program in physical therapy, you must first obtain a bachelor's degree or complete three years of undergraduate pre-physical therapy classes.

To obtain the licensing necessary to start your physiotherapy career, you must earn an advanced degree from a physiotherapy program such as a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Such a program should include both clinical and classroom education, incorporating courses such as evidence-based practice, musculoskeletal systems, neurological patient management, professional development and physical therapist techniques.

What About Licensing and Certification?

After graduation, you must obtain proper licensing to practice. The requirements depend upon the state, but expect to complete a national licensing examination and state tests. Some states mandate continuing education in order to keep your license.

As a physiotherapist, you may voluntarily seek certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties in a specific area such as pediatrics or sports therapy. Certification is not necessary for you to provide physical therapy in a specialized area, however.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for physiotherapists was $84,020 as of May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of becoming a physical therapist, you could pursue another position in the healthcare field, such as family doctor, pediatrician or surgeon. For these jobs, you would need to attend medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree and complete a residency in your specialization area of interest. Another option is to become a medical scientist. In this job, you could conduct health-related research. If you are interested in physical therapy, you could focus your research on a relevant topic in the field, such as the causes of medical conditions that limit movement, the development of medical devices to improve patient mobility, or more effective ways to prevent and/or treat injuries. You usually need to earn a Ph.D. to get a top research job in medical science.

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