Career guide: Physical therapist

  • Physical therapists work with patients to improve mobility and manage pain.
    Physical therapists work with patients to improve mobility and manage pain.

    Career guide: Physical therapist

    If you're looking to enter the field of health care, there are a number of potential career paths you can take. If you're eager to help patients but are not necessarily interested in training as a physician or a nurse, pursuing a career as a physical therapist could be a viable option. Professionals in this field work with patients who have experienced an injury or chronic illness, in a bid to help them improve or regain movement. Read on to learn more about this rewarding role.

    A closer look at physical therapy
    As detailed by The Balance, patients may enlist the services of a physical therapist for any number of health reasons, but the objective often remains the same – to help regain or improve movement and to manage pain more effectively. For example, patients may need help from a physical therapist after being partially paralyzed by a stroke or head injury, or perhaps need to regain better function after a fracture. Physical therapists also work with patients experiencing long-term chronic conditions such as cerebral palsy, heart disease and arthritis. These professionals can assist patients with less serious but still burdensome problems, such as ongoing back pain.

    In terms of duties, the Houston Chronicle explained how physical therapists work with patients to devise exercise and pain management programs. These schedules are developed based on advice from the patient's primary care team, and are tailored to the specific injury or illness. There is no uniform way to tackle physical therapy – each plan will differ to best suit the needs of the individual patient and objectives and outcomes will vary. There are common strategies that physical therapists employ, however. Typically they will coach their patients through exercise routines and may teach them how to stretch properly and perform other movements, so as to reduce pain. The Balance noted that the techniques utilized by physical therapists are known as modalities. 

    "Physical therapists work with patients to devise exercise and pain management programs."

    The source also elaborated that it is common for physical therapists to work with physical therapy aides and physical therapist assistants, delegating tasks and offering guidance and supervision.

    Where are physical therapists employed?
    Physical therapists can be found in a range of health care settings, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics explained. For example, a physical therapist may work with stroke patients in a hospital, while another may focus exclusively on sports injuries in a private clinic. Physical therapists may also be found in nursing homes or other rehabilitation facilities.

    What education is needed?
    According to the American Physical Therapy Association, to train as a physical therapist students must enroll in a doctor of physical therapy degree program, which must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Upon successful completion of this advanced degree, individuals must then earn a license to practice. These licenses are administered at the state level. The APTA noted that while once common, it is no longer possible to earn a master's degree in physical therapy – only doctorate programs are available in the U.S.

    How much do physical therapists earn?
    As reported by the BLS, the current median salary across the U.S. for physical therapists is close to $85,000 year. PayScale noted that for entry-level professionals in the field, the median salary is a little lower, standing at around $66,412 per annum on average. The source noted that it still possible, however, for those early in their career to earn over $80,000 a year. Profit sharing and bonuses are also common across the industry, the source explained. 

    What is the job outlook?
    The BLS explained that demand for physical therapists is expected to rise notably in the coming decades, primarily due to the aging population – as people live longer they are more likely to experience chronic conditions and other issues affecting mobility. That's not to mention the rise in health problems across the general population caused by conditions such as obesity. In terms of hard figures, the BLS projects that between 2014 and 2024 employment of these professionals will increase by around 34 percent. 

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