Physical Therapist

Physical Therapist

Physical Therapists must be comfortable standing close to people and working with them in a “hands-on” manner. They help patients increase their muscle strength, improve mobility and relieve pain due to injury or medical condition.

Description of  health care career information and the daily work:

Physical Therapists (PTs) play an important role in assisting patients to improve their physical mobility, relieve pain and restore function to specific areas of the body. They help rehabilitation of patients who are disabled by injury or disease. Specifically, patients may seek the services of a Physical Therapist because of disabling conditions such as lower back pain, arthritis, neurological disorder or the inability to easily move arms and legs due to an accident or long term injury. PTs not only work with individuals to recover from injury and ailments, but also help prevent injury by teaching patients how to avoid further injury and by promoting good practices and overall fitness and health.

In a  physical therapy job, you will first conduct an assessment of the patient to determine his or her medical history. You test for the patient’s strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance and motor functions in order to develop the best treatment plan for that individual. The treatment plan includes the mode of treatment, the amount of time and specific goals that the patient will achieve in your work together. Examples of your daily work may include: assisting an accident victim learn to use an artificial limb, helping a stroke patient adjust to her home environment, or helping a patient recover and gain strength after a sports injury. As a physical therapist, you plan and carry out programs to help patients gain strength, flexibility, endurance, coordination, and overall physical functioning.

Physical Therapists may use hot and cold compresses, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and deep tissue massage to relieve patient’s pain and discomfort before assisting them with exercises or during the course of the treatment. Physical Therapists use their hands to guide patients through exercises and teach them how to do the exercises on their own. A PT also acts as a coach in between sessions by encouraging patients to be consistent in their exercise treatment so that they gradually increase muscle strength and flexibility. As the PT continues to work with the patient, the PT will document the patient’s progress in their chart and change the treatment when needed.

The job of a Physical Therapist can be physically demanding due to helping patients manipulate their bodies. If you are interested in becoming a PT, you must be able to stoop, kneel, lift patients and be on your feet for long periods of time.

PTs work in private physical therapy offices, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, nursing homes sports facilities and schools. The Physical Therapist is often part of a health care team that works with Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers and Physicians to meet the wide range of a patient’s recovery plan. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, two thirds of physical therapists work in either hospitals or physical therapy offices and many work full-time.

Education Requirements, Licensure/Certification:

To become a physical therapist, you must graduate from either a Bachelor of science or clinical Doctoral degree program. All accredited physical therapy programs are either at the bachelor of doctoral level (or bachelor leading to the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. The Master’s level program has been replaced by the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.) The Doctor of Physical Therapy degree is a six year program, although a Bachelor of Science degree is awarded after four years are successfully completed.

Studies in physical therapy start with basic biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology and then specialize in courses such as skeletal and neuromuscular disorders, therapeutic techniques, educational methods, examination techniques, research, administration, and clinical practice. Students then receive clinical experience as a part of their course. Graduates of accredited programs for PT and PTA must complete The National Physical Therapy licensing examination given by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Once you have graduated from an accredited program and passed the National Physical Therapy licensing exam (along with proving good moral character and payment of fees) you can apply to become registered as a Physical Therapist . The State Board of Registration in Physical Therapy will issue your license if you meet all eligibility criteria.

High school students interested in physical therapy should focus heavily on biology, chemistry, anatomy and health. Physical therapy programs also look for applicants with some volunteer experience in the physical therapy department of a hospital or nursing home.


The median annual earnings for physical therapists nationally in 2002 was $57,330. In 2005, the hourly range was $20.79 – $33.33.

Career Path and/or Opportunities for Growth:

You may specialize in certain areas of medicine such as cardiovascular and pulmonary, neurology, orthopedics, sports medicine, pediatrics or geriatrics. You can choose to remain a practitioner, move through supervisory or management positions or become self-employed and develop a private practice. According to the bureau of labor statistics, jobs in physical therapy will continue to rise as the population grows older and technology in medicine keeps people alive longer.

Professional Associations: American Physical Therapy Association