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Physical Therapist: Education and Career Information

Physical Therapy is a health care profession that is also known as physiotherapy and is used every day to help individuals restore the functions of limbs that have been damaged. There are many situations referred to physical therapists that individuals do not realize. Broke an arm or leg? You need physical therapy. Joint problems? That’s a job for a physical therapist as well. Posture problems after an accident? You’ll see a physical therapist for that problem too.

Physical therapists are clinicians who diagnose and recommend treatment while designing regimens to maintain positive results. This is a licensed profession that requires extensive education and knowledge of the human anatomy. Physical therapists have foundations in pharmacology and research, and are able to prescribe certain medications and other treatments. Physical therapists have knowledge of medicine and dentistry, biology, counseling, psychology, law and government, sociology, math, and physics.

What does a physical therapist do?

A physical therapist has a number of roles. They evaluate and treat patients of every age who have medical issues that inhibit their mobility and everyday functions. They work in private agencies, sports rehabilitation facilities, private practices, outpatient clinics, schools for children with disabilities, retirement homes, nursing homes, corporate offices and home health agencies. Physical therapists diagnose current and potential problems to help restore or maintain physical functions to promote a better quality-of-life. Physical therapists work in a clinical capacity, examining the patient and their history, conducting evaluations, performing tests to identify issues and potential problems. They recommend interventions, conduct re-examinations, design and/or modify interventions and implement discharge plans for the patients once they are well enough to continue treatment on their own.

They evaluate the following: strength, flexibility, balance, coordination, endurance, mobility (walking, stairs), posture, body mechanics, and range of motion. Their treatment plans include educating the patient on the causes of their issues, exercises to improve mobility and function, and patient participation.

There are a number of concentrations where physical therapists can focus their efforts. Some of them include:

•Sports Medicine
•Clinical Medicine
•Pediatric Rehabilitation
•Neurology and Elder Patients
•Neuromuscular and Musculoskeletal Physical Therapy

How much do physical therapists earn?

Physical therapists earn about $80,000 per year on the low end. Depending on the area, location and specialization, they can make significantly more. The more education and experience a physical therapist has, the earning potential increases. Physical therapists who work for sports teams make almost $100,000, if not more, and if working for a private agency, the salary continues to rise.

What types of skills are needed to be successful in this field?

The physical therapist deals with a variety of people, including patients, other healthcare professionals and corporate entities. There are a number of skills needed:

•Active listening
•Critical thinking
•Problem solving
•Customer Service

Internship requirements

Residency requirements vary depending on the program, but usually last at least one year, if not longer. The residency allows the student to gain practical training in specialized areas. Most programs require an internship for each year they are completing the DPT program and must also complete a research training program with a one-year commitment. Clinical experience is an important component of any physical therapy program. The top DPT programs require seven clinical internships, which include 4 full-time internships and 3 part-time semester long clinical internships.

Education requirements

There are a number of educational requirements involved in pursuing a physical therapy degree. An individual must enter an undergraduate program that should be focused on human anatomy and physiology. There are many physical therapy and exercise science programs designed to provide the foundation to be able to successfully enter into a physical therapy program. Once the bachelor’s degree is completed, students must pursue a master’s degree in physical therapy (MPT, MSPT, MS), or may continue on to receive a doctoral degree (DPT). Once the advanced degree is completed, you must sit for the physical therapy license exam.

The program requirements for physical therapy are changing, requiring all PT programs to only offer the DPT degree. The American Physical Therapy Association is working to change regulations that will require all physical therapists to have the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. This will change the total education required to about eight or nine years. There are a number of schools that have now incorporated the MPH and DPT programs, cutting the time to exactly four years to complete the two.

Undergraduate coursework includes chemistry, statistics, physics, biology, English, psychology and other courses that will assist in helping you effectively work with patients. Some of the top DTP programs are at the following schools:

•University of Southern California – 3 years
•University of Delaware – 2.5 years
•University of Pittsburgh – 3 years
•Washington University in St. Louis – 3 years
•University of Iowa – 2.5 years

Coursework in the MPH and DPT programs include: human neuroanatomy, introduction to physical therapy intervention, management of practice environments, functional assessment, exercise foundations and prescription, motor control, musculoskeletal physical therapy intervention, physical therapy for older adults, pharmacology for physical therapy and others.

Some programs also offer certification as a clinical specialist upon completion of the clinical experience internship component. All students pursuing this designation must sit for an exam in each specialty. Clinical specialist certification is available in the following areas: pediatric, cardiopulmonary, women’s health, geriatrics, sports, neurological, clinical electrophysiological and orthopedics.

There are organizations in place that will assist in keeping certification requirements and assisting physical therapists in staying aware of new innovations in the field. The American Physical Therapy Association helps design the national licensing exam and other criteria for physical therapists.

The world of physical therapy is challenging, yet exciting. This is a highly specialized position that is centered on helping individuals live their best lives. The possibilities in the world of physical therapy are endless, and there are many new innovative methods that have been implemented to help the healing and progression of individuals.

Therapy Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants


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