|Quick Facts: Physical Therapists|
|2017 Median Pay||$86,850 per year
$41.76 per hour
|Typical Entry-Level Education||Doctoral or professional degree|
|Work Experience in a Related Occupation||None|
|Number of Jobs, 2016||239,800|
|Job Outlook, 2016-26||28% (Much faster than average)|
|Employment Change, 2016-26||67,100|
Physical Therapist Career, Salary and Education Information
What Physical Therapists Do
Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.
Duties of Physical Therapists
Physical therapists typically do the following:
Review patients’ medical history and any referrals or notes from doctors, surgeons, or other healthcare workers
Diagnose patients’ functions and movements by observing them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods
Develop individualized plans of care for patients, outlining the patients’ goals and the expected outcomes of the plans
Use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain, help them increase their mobility, prevent further pain or injury, and facilitate health and wellness
Evaluate and record a patient’s progress, modifying a plan of care and trying new treatments as needed
Educate patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process and how best to cope with challenges throughout the process
Physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from back and neck injuries; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; amputations; neurological disorders, such as stroke or cerebral palsy; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions.
Physical therapists are educated to use a variety of different techniques to care for their patients. These techniques include exercises; training in functional movement, which may include the use of equipment such as canes, crutches, wheelchairs, and walkers; and special movements of joints, muscles, and other soft tissue to improve movement and decrease pain.
The work of physical therapists varies by type of patient. For example, a patient working to recover mobility lost after a stroke needs different care from a patient who is recovering from a sports injury. Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care, such as orthopedics or geriatrics. Many physical therapists also help patients to maintain or improve mobility by developing fitness and wellness programs that encourage healthier and more active lifestyles.
Work Environment for Physical Therapists
Physical therapists hold about 239,800 jobs. The largest employers of physical therapists are as follows:
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: 33%
Hospitals; state, local, and private: 26%
Home healthcare services: 10%
Self-employed workers: 7%
Nursing and residential care facilities: 7%
Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, working with patients. Because they must often lift and move patients, they are vulnerable to back injuries. Physical therapists can limit these risks by using proper body mechanics and lifting techniques when assisting patients.
Most physical therapists work full time. About 1 in 5 work part time. Although most physical therapists work during normal business hours, some may work evenings or weekends.
How to Become a Physical Therapist
Physical therapists need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.
In 2017, there were more than 200 programs for physical therapists accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). All programs offer a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.
DPT programs typically last 3 years. Many programs require a bachelor’s degree for admission as well as specific educational prerequisites, such as classes in anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, and physics. Some programs admit college freshmen into 6- or 7-year programs that allow students to graduate with both a bachelor’s degree and a DPT. Most DPT programs require applicants to apply through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).
Physical therapist programs often include courses in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and pharmacology. Physical therapist students also complete at least 30 weeks of clinical work, during which they gain supervised experience in areas such as acute care and orthopedic care.
Physical therapists may apply to and complete a clinical residency program after graduation. Residencies typically last about 1 year and provide additional training and experience in specialty areas of care. Physical therapists who have completed a residency program may choose to specialize further by completing a fellowship in an advanced clinical area. The American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education has directories of physical therapist residency and fellowship programs.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require physical therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state but all include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Several states also require a law exam and a criminal background check. Continuing education is typically required for physical therapists to keep their license. Check with your state boards for specific licensing requirements.
After gaining work experience, some physical therapists choose to become a board-certified specialist. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers certification in nine clinical specialty areas of physical therapy, including orthopedics, sports, and geriatrics. Board specialist certification requires passing an exam and at least 2,000 hours of clinical work in the specialty area within the last ten years or completion of an American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)-accredited residency program in the specialty area.
Compassion. Physical therapists are often drawn to the profession in part by a desire to help people. They work with people who are in pain and must have empathy for their patients.
Detail oriented. Like other healthcare providers, physical therapists should have strong analytic and observational skills to diagnose a patient’s problem, evaluate treatments, and provide safe, effective care.
Dexterity. Physical therapists must use their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. They should feel comfortable massaging and otherwise physically assisting patients.
Interpersonal skills. Because physical therapists spend a lot of time interacting with patients, they should enjoy working with people. They must clearly explain treatment programs, motivate patients, and listen to patients’ concerns in order to provide effective therapy.
Physical stamina. Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, moving as they demonstrate proper techniques and help patients perform exercises. They should enjoy physical activity.
Resourcefulness. Physical therapists customize treatment plans for patients. They must be flexible and adapt plans of care to meet the needs of each patient.
Time-management skills. Physical therapists typically treat several patients each day. They must provide appropriate care to patients along with completing administrative tasks, such as documenting patient progress.
salaries for Physical Therapists
The median annual wage for physical therapists is $85,400. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $58,190, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $122,130.
The median annual wages for physical therapists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
Home healthcare services: $93,200
Nursing and residential care facilities: $92,960
Hospitals; state, local, and private: $87,010
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists: $81,220
Most physical therapists work full time. About 1 in 5 work part time. Although most therapists work during normal business hours, some may work evenings or weekends.
Job Outlook for physical therapists
Employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 25 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Demand for physical therapy will come in part from the large number of aging baby boomers, who are staying more active later in life than their counterparts of previous generations. Older people are more likely to experience heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries that require physical therapy for rehabilitation.
In addition, a number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, have become more prevalent in recent years. More physical therapists will be needed to help these patients maintain their mobility and manage the effects of chronic conditions.
Advances in medical technology have increased the use of outpatient surgery to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. Medical and technological developments also are expected to permit a greater percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care. Physical therapists will continue to play an important role in helping these patients recover more quickly from surgery.
Job opportunities are expected to be good for licensed physical therapists in all settings. Job prospects should be particularly good in acute-care hospitals, skilled-nursing facilities, and orthopedic settings, where the elderly are most often treated. Job prospects should be especially favorable in rural areas because many physical therapists live in highly populated urban and suburban areas.
Employment projections data for Physical Therapists, 2016-2026
Employment in 2016: 239,800
Projected Employment in 2026: 306,900
Change, 2016-2026: +28%, +67,100
Careers Related to physical therapists
Audiologists diagnose, manage, and treat a patient's hearing, balance, or ear problems.
Athletic trainers specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating muscle and bone injuries and illnesses.
Chiropractors treat patients with health problems of the neuromusculoskeletal system, which includes nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. They use spinal adjustments and manipulation, as well as other clinical interventions, to manage patients' health concerns, such as back and neck pain.
Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise programs that help patients recover from chronic diseases and improve cardiovascular function, body composition, and flexibility.
Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, also referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), coordinate patient care and may provide primary and specialty healthcare. The scope of practice varies from state to state.
Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.
Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.
Physician assistants, also known as PAs, practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers. They examine, diagnose, and treat patients.
Recreational therapists plan, direct, and coordinate recreation-based treatment programs for people with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses. These therapists use a variety of modalities, including arts and crafts; drama, music, and dance; sports and games; aquatics; and community outings to help maintain or improve a patient's physical, social, and emotional well-being.
Speech-language pathologists (sometimes called speech therapists) assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults. Speech, language, and swallowing disorders result from a variety of causes, such as a stroke, brain injury, hearing loss, developmental delay, Parkinson's disease, a cleft palate, or autism.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm