What Do Physical Therapists Do?

As a physical therapist, you assess patients and determine treatment, as well as track patients' progress and evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. You also teach patients and families how to properly continue therapy once released from the hospital or medical office. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

As a physical therapist, you work with patients who have lost the ability to perform daily physical activities. As part of your job, you may develop a collaborative working relationship with your patients' medical doctors. You'll be exposed to a wide variety of medical conditions, like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and spina bifida, along with injuries like muscle sprains, bone fractures, burns, and amputations.

You often work one-on-one with a patient and develop a personalized treatment plan aimed at regaining function, increasing mobility, managing pain, and avoiding possible deformities. You can achieve this through therapeutic exercise, assistive devices, and electrotherapeutic modalities. Your responsibilities also include detailed record keeping of patient evaluations, treatment, and progress toward goals.

Important Facts About Physical Therapists

Professional CertificationOptional, the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties awards eight types of certificates
Key SkillsCritical thinking, listening, monitoring, reading comprehension, speaking
Work EnvironmentHospitals, nursing and residential care facilities, offices of physicians, private homes
Similar OccupationsOccupational therapists, recreational therapists

Educational Requirements

To become a physical therapist, you must complete a doctoral degree program in physical therapy, since a master's is no longer offered. As of 2019, there were over 250 accredited doctoral degree programs in physical therapy in the United States. The degree program consists of courses in anatomy, biology, biomechanics, pathology, physiology, and pharmacology, along with a clinical hands-on physical therapy experience. You're required to earn state licensure regardless of which state you reside in, which may consist of passing several examinations and partaking in continuing education in order to stay licensed.

Average Salary and Career Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), physical therapists earned a median salary of $87,930 in May 2018. In addition, the BLS reported that this was the median yearly salary for the 228,600 people employed as physical therapists. The bottom ten percent earned $60,390 and the top ten percent earned $123,350.

The largest percentage of physical therapists worked out of offices of other health practitioners, but many also worked out of general medical and surgical hospitals. The demand for physical therapists was expected to grow considerably, with the BLS predicting occupational growth of 28% between the years 2016 and 2026.

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