Physical Therapy

Physical therapists, often referred to as PTs, are among the most demanded professionals in the United States. The demand is due, in part, to an aging population as well as the structure of the American health care system. That is to say, physicians are encouraged to refer patients and delegate therapeutic responsibilities to specialized health care professionals. Thus, PTs perform many functions that were previously attended to by physicians.

The scope of physical therapy is broad. Physical therapists assess patients to determine the need, type and intensity of necessary therapy. Once the physical therapy needs of respective patients are determined, PTs work with the patient and his or her family to develop an appropriate rehabilitation plan. Physical therapists then implement, reevaluate and revise the patient care plan to ensure the patient's needs are met. PTs are also instrumental to determining whether physical therapy should be continued or terminated.

At present, physical therapists are in high demand in every region of the United States and Canada. The average entry-level salary for a physical therapist is $40,000 and experienced therapists may earn significantly more. Benefits packages are often generous and working hours are typically regular. Relatively few physical therapists are required to work "call" hours.

Post-graduation job prospects and opportunities for career advancement are excellent. In addition to their clinical roles, it is not uncommon to see PTs leading teams of therapists in large health care organizations. Physical therapy is a diverse field that offers professionals opportunities to work in a variety of settings with diverse populations.

In order to practice, physical therapists must graduate from an accredited educational program. These programs are rigorous and result in various degrees, though most are moving towards a doctorate track. Post-graduation, PTs must obtain state licensure and meet continuing medical education requirements set forth by their state licensure board.

Physical Therapy Job Search

The job market for physical therapists is inviting and advantageous, even to new graduates.

Physical therapists seeking employment should look to the human resources departments of hospitals as well as other in- and out-patient health care facilities for job opportunities. Newspaper and Web-based classified advertisements may present additional employment opportunities for PTs. Other employment resources include "headhunters," private employment counselors, career centers administered by city and state governments as well as colleges and universities, private-sector employment agencies and professional association Web sites, such as the site offered by the American Physical Therapy Association.

Therapy professionals have the opportunity to make and cultivate many relationships with like professionals in the region in which they attend school. These relationships may be found in professors, internship supervisors and others with whom they have come in contact. All of the individuals may be used as resources when engaging in an employment search.

Is Physical Therapy Right for You?

Physical therapy is a rewarding yet challenging line of work. PTs must possess patience, understanding and a unique skill set to succeed in this role. Physical therapists must be articulate and adept communicators who are able to communicate with professionals, patients and family. This means PTs must be able to convey complex concepts to others as well as break those concepts down into simple ideas and actions. Additionally, physical therapists must maintain their own physical strength and fitness in order to effectively treat patients of all ages and builds and who have a wide array of disabilities.

A positive attitude is paramount to the success of a physical therapist. These professionals serve not only as therapists but as cheerleaders to patients who need motivation and encouragement. Patients must be pushed to their limits, and PTs must know when to push and when to comfort. The work can be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting but can also be uplifting and life changing.

Physical Therapy in Action

The daily life of a physical therapist is full of challenges and opportunities for professional growth. In addition to time devoted to clinical care of patients, physical therapists are required to work in consultation with a number of health care professionals, including doctors, nurses, physical therapy assistants and other types of therapists.

Physical therapists are not only charged with rehabilitating patients but also performing comprehensive examinations of new and existing clientele to guide them in developing treatment protocol. PTs thoroughly interview patients to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the patient's physical and psychological condition and often lead patients through a gamut of challenging tests in order to determine the extent of injury or debilitation.

Once a treatment protocol has been established and agreed to by both patient and therapist, the PT is responsible for effectively administering the treatment plan over the course of several therapy sessions. In some cases, a physical therapist will not administer treatment directly but will instead oversee the work of a physical therapy assistant.

Physical therapists are often required to attend care conferences involving the patient and his or her health care team. Thus, it is imperative that PTs are proficient when it comes to reading medical charts and articulating therapeutic programs.

An organization's senior physical therapists may also be responsible for administrative tasks, such as ordering new equipment, hiring new employees, maintaining facilities and acting as department administrators. Some PTs gradually move into management positions, in which they oversee other therapists and ensure continuous, smooth delivery of health care services.

Last Updated: 04/28/2014

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