The Scoop on Physical Therapists

Physical Therapy is a term a lot of us hear and still more of us know a Physical Therapist, but do we know exactly what they do?

Physical Therapy is grueling work that helps patients regain control or use of injured parts of their body. With the profession expected to grow fast than the national average and the population aging we can expect to see a lot more need for Physical Therapists...and soon.

What in the World Does a Physical Therapist Do?

A Physical Therapist does just what their title says: They provide therapy for physical problems. (I's brilliant!) A Physical Therapist is responsible for all phases of rehabbing a patient's injury whether it is after surgery for a sports related injury or helping someone walk after they were hurt in a car accident.

If you were working as a Physical Therapist you would be responsible for testing the patient's current state of health and then prescribing treatments that are going to help them regain function in their arm, leg, etc. This is not always going to involve you getting in trenches and doing things for the patient because you will also have to prescribe therapy that the patient can do at home and on their own.

During treatment you will have to keep up with your patient's records, record their progress, do experiments every now and then to make sure the therapy is actually working and then slowly get your patients off physical therapy. That's a lot of work for one person, but in the industry that is the standard of care.

What Kind of Training do I need (A.K.A. - Will I have to go to School?)

A training program for Physical Therapy involves finishing a Master's Degree in Physical Therapy. This is the kind of program you can go to at your local college or university (there are 209 programs in the U.S.) and the kind of program where you can decide how long you want it to take. If you are getting a Master's Degree sometimes the program has you do your Bachelor's and Master's Degree together (shortening your time in school) and if you are getting a Doctorate it also gets done with your other degrees (once again, shortening your time in school.)

Once you graduate you will need to get a license to work as a PT (Physical Therapist.) This usually involves passing some kind of written exam for the State Board and then you will be licensed as a PT. Each state's requirements differ and some will require more continuing education than others, but no matter where you live you will have to periodically renew your license.

How Do I get One of These Jobs Anyways?

The majority of PTs work in hospitals and health clinics, but not all do so. If you were working as a PT you could easily find work in a nursing home aiding patients with injuries (broken hips for example), you could work at a more specialized Physical Therapy practice where you are working alongside an Orthopedic Surgeon and other doctors, or you could even work solo as "The Physical Therapist" in a hospital or in a cluster of medical practices. This is almost like owning your own practice only you can think of yourself more as a "therapist for hire". This option makes it a lot easier to set your own hours and work your work around your family life. (If you were in a sports happy town you might even be able to work for a college or pro sports team. Now that's pretty cool.)

Advancing in the field would usually require you to get your Doctorate. This is because you would be managing or supervising other therapists. You might be the "Director of Physical Therapy" or something like that. Still other folks might go into research with a doctor on injuries and therapeutic practices. If you enjoy working with students you could always teach Physical Therapy at a college or university. The options are endless (and no you don't have to JUST work in a hospital.)

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Physical Therapists Overview

Physical Therapist Salary:$72,790
Job Prospects:B
Education after high school:6 years
# Employed in US:167,300
% Who work Part Time:20%
Physical Difficulty:+ + + + +
Intellectual Difficulty:+ + +
Emotional Difficulty:+ + +

The Pros of being a Physical Therapist

  • There are TONS of places to find work
  • The field is expected to grow much faster than the national average
  • You have a good chance of setting your own hours if you work in the right environment

The Cons of being a Physical Therapist

  • There is a lot of manual labor involved in helping someone re-learn how to walk or move their leg or move their arm, etc.
  • It may be hard to work with people who have had bad injuries and who might also be depressed or distraught
  • You tend to have to do EVERYTHING that is entailed in your job because only you can keep track of your patients