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What Are Some Popular Career Options in Physical Therapy?

Get details about three common careers in the field of physical therapy. Read on to learn more about common job duties, education requirements, licensing and salary potential.

Career Overview

The field of physical therapy deals with the treatment and prevention of physical disabilities caused by injury or illness. Some popular career options include physical therapist, physical therapist assistant and physical therapist aide.

Important Facts About These Occupations

Work Environment Hospitals, doctors' offices, nursing homes
Key Skills Dexterity, compassion, stamina
Professional Certification Physical therapists can pursue voluntary certification in a specialty area
Similar Occupations Recreational Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Pharmacy Technician, Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide, Dental Assistant

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physical Therapist

A physical therapist works with patients to maximize mobility and help prevent and treat a variety of physical disabilities. These professionals evaluate a patient's condition and create a specialized treatment plan that addresses the patient's physical therapy needs. Physical disabilities that patients have suffered may be the result of physical trauma caused by an accident or an illness. Physical therapists may also be responsible for evaluating a patient's ability to return to the workplace after recovering from an injury. They generally work in clinics or private offices.

Education Requirements

Physical therapists must complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program and pass a specific licensing exam. During the three-year degree program, students take courses and do internships in a clinical setting. After becoming licensed, physical therapists have to meet continuing education requirements to maintain licensure.

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapists will have many job opportunities over the 2016-2026 decade, with very fast employment growth of 28% expected over that period (www.bls.gov). The median salary in May 2018 was $87,930, with most physical therapists making between $60,390 and $123,350, reported the BLS.

Physical Therapist Assistant

A physical therapist assistant is responsible for assisting the physical therapist with a number of tasks. These professionals may work directly with patients to improve mobility under the supervision of the physical therapist. Some duties a physical therapist assistant may perform include exercising, massaging, applying hot and cold packs, documenting responses to treatment, as well as reporting important information and findings to the physical therapist.

Education Requirements

Many states require that physical therapist assistants hold an associate's degree. An associate's program in the field provides both classroom instruction and hands-on experience in a clinical setting. Unless you work in Hawaii, you also need to get certification or licensure. After completing a qualified degree program, you would take the National Physical Therapy Exam, as well as any other exams your state requires. You also need to be 18 years or order and be able to pass a criminal background check to qualify. After you get licensed, continuing education may be necessary.

Job Outlook and Salary

The BLS reports that employment growth for physical therapist assistants will be much faster than average, with a growth of 31% expected over the 2016-2026 decade. Rural areas should especially have many job opportunities, and prospects overall are very good. The BLS reported a median wage of $58,040 for physical therapist assistants in May 2018, with most making between $33,780 and $79,810.

Physical Therapist Aide

A physical therapist aide helps the physical therapist and physical therapist assistant achieve a productive visit for the patient. These employees are responsible for keeping the treatment area clean and organized. They may also greet patients and prepare the treatment area for the physical therapist. Some clinics also require that physical therapist aides answer phones, file paperwork and order supplies.

Education Requirements

There are no particular education requirements for this career except for a high school diploma. Much of the training is provided during employment, and you won't need to obtain licensure to work as an aide.

Job Outlook and Salary

The BLS projects 29% employment growth for physical therapist aides from 2016-2026, which is much faster than average. While there will be a lot of competition, the BLS notes that medical facilities that treat the elderly will have more job opportunities. In May 2018, the BLS reported a median wage of $26,240 for physical therapist aides.