Career of Physical Therapist

Physical therapist applying orthopedic adjuvant
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Is a career as a physical therapist a fit for you? A physical therapist (PT) is an allied health professional who helps to rehabilitate a patient while recovering from surgery or a patient who has been injured or incapacitated in some way by an accident, illness or stroke.

A physical therapist may see patients in a medical office or hospital setting, depending on the career path chosen by the physical therapist.

Physical therapy ranges from short-term to long-term depending on the severity of the patient’s condition.

For example, a patient who has had a relatively routine knee surgery may need a few sessions of physical therapy to get his or her knee back to its full range of motion. On the other hand, a more severely injured patient may require months of physical therapy just to gain the strength and range of motion needed to stand and walk.

Typical Work Load and Work Environment

Physical therapists may see patients in a medical office, such as an orthopedic surgery practice, or hospital setting. Typically a patient will be referred to a physical therapist by a physician, who prescribes the physical therapy treatment and follows up to assess the patient’s progress regularly after one or more courses of therapy.

Typically a physical therapy room is equipped with a variety of apparatus, used to rehabilitate patients. This may include weights, mats, and treadmills where PT’s can perform a variety of exercises with the patients to improve motor skills, sensory perception, and muscle strength.

Required Skills for Entry Level 

According to the American Physical Therapy Association(APTA), the following are some of the basic, minimum skill requirements for a career as a physical therapist:

  • Assess and review all systems of the body as needed to determine the need for physical therapy, and the scope of therapy needed as well as the patient's limitations.
  • Perform tests to characterize and quantify range of motion, sensory integrity (sharp/dull, hot/cold, pressure, vibration, etc), neuromotor skills, and reflexes.
  • Clinical reasoning and decision-making to determine a diagnosis (what's wrong with the patient) and prognosis (will the patient improve, how much, and when)
  • Use goal-setting skills to set a plan of care in action
  • First-Aid, CPR, safety, in case of emergency
  • Use of orthotics, prosthetics, walkers, wheelchairs, and other supportive devices
  • Manual therapy, tissue massage, traction, and manipulation
  • Communication skills for patient/family education, consultations with other health professionals
  • Practice Management skills such as billing & coding for proper reimbursement, documentation of medical records, supervising staff such as physical therapy assistants, and quality improvement
  • Professional skills and values such as accountability, integrity, compassion, responsibility


The national average salary for entry-level physical therapists is about $53,000. Salary increases with each year of experience in the physical therapists' career. 

How to Become a Physical Therapist

A career as a physical therapist requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy and then passing the certification exam. Like most health careers, the coursework is heavy in the sciences including biology, chemistry, and anatomy, to name a few.

There are also master’s level degrees and doctorate level degrees available. The school should be accredited by CAPTE (Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education).

What's to Like 

Job growth and high demand are huge for physical therapists. Both the Wall Street Journal and Parade Magazine have ranked Physical Therapy as a "Hot Job" in the past year or two. Job satisfaction is generally high among physical therapists as well. PT's get to help people get better, and patient interaction with recovering patients is usually a very rewarding experience. PT is generally an upbeat, inspiring medical field.

What's Not to Like 

Physical therapy is a physically demanding job, which for some is positive, but if you prefer to sit behind a desk, PT would not be for you. As a PT, you're always moving: walking, lifting patients, and various manipulations and maneuvers require physical strength and fitness.

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