Becoming A Physical Therapist

If you are thinking about becoming a Physical Therapist (PT), here is some useful information to help you decide if this is a career you want to pursue and what it will take to achieve your goals.

Many find that a career as a Physical Therapist is very rewarding and have gained a lot of personal satisfaction from helping hundreds or even thousands of people improve their health and lifestyle during their career as a PT.

Job Description for Becoming A Physical Therapist

Physical Therapists (PTs) help individuals who are suffering from some form of physical limitation, be it pain or reduced mobility or function. PTs also teach patients different techniques and strategies that can help prevent pain and the loss of mobility or function from occurring in the first place.

Physical Therapists must understand how the different parts of the body function together and what activities will help physical conditions improve and what activities to avoid to keep conditions from worsening.

Physical Therapists should be comfortable working with all kinds of people, regardless of ethnicity, body type or gender. If you plan to work in an area where a foreign language is commonly spoken in addition to English, it would be a good idea to learn some basic terms in that language.

As a PT, you can also specialize in specific aspects of physical therapy, such as sports related injuries & rehabilitation, geriatrics (treating the elderly), children (by working at a school), or specific parts of the body such as shoulders & arms, or hips & legs.

In addition, those interested in becoming a Physical Therapist should note that there are many settings that they can work within including hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, home health services, onsite workplaces, and research facilities.

Physical Therapist Schooling

Currently, to become a Physical Therapist, you are required to obtain either a Master’s degree or a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy from a nationally accredited school. Generally these are 4+ year colleges or universities, and they can be private or public schools.

There is no standard undergraduate curriculum, but most physical therapy schools will require the following courses before being considered for admission:

Chemistry I & 2
Biology I & 2
Physics I & 2
Human Physiology

This list is only the most basic courses required before becoming a Physical Therapist and is not a complete list of classes needed before admission. Be aware that competition for available physical therapy programs can be tough, so your grade point average can play a role in being accepted into a PT program.

Normally, a Physical Therapist candidate will have earned a Bachelor’s degree with a strong emphasis in physics, physiology and science.

For a Master’s degree (MPT), you’ll generally need another 2 – 2 1/2 years of education beyond your Bachelor’s degree, and to obtain your Doctorate degree (DPT), you’ll need another 3 years. Currently, the vast majority of physical therapy graduates are DPTs. This could mean that in some locations, it may be difficult to compete for jobs if you only have a Master’s degree.

Additional Physical Therapy Schooling Prerequisites

Generally, most physical therapy programs require that you have a minimum number of hours of paid or volunteer experience working under a licensed Physical Therapist. You could volunteer your services or work as a physical therapy aide to obtain these required hours.

Some schools also require you to have worked under two different licensed Physical Therapists, and will require a letter of recommendation from each of them, so keep this in mind when building up your required hours.

Each PT school has its own set of prerequisites, so ideally you should find out in advance what these prerequisites are before attending any undergraduate school past your freshman year.

Becoming A Physical Therapist? Here’s the Licensing Requirements:

After completing your Master’s degree or Doctorate degree training, you must pass the national exam which is administered at the state level. Most states also have some form of state license requirements to practice physical therapy in that particular state.

Physical Therapy Job Outlook

In the USA alone, there are more than 750,000 people per day who seek out the expertise of a Physical Therapist. These numbers are expected to continue to rise through the foreseeable future, so the outlook for jobs is very good for Physical Therapists throughout most of the United States.

Much of this increased demand is due to the increasing numbers of baby boomers who are now reaching the age (and awareness) that physical therapy treatments can help slow the effects of aging and keep them active longer.

Physical Therapist Salaries

Those considering becoming a Physical Therapist will be interested to know that the median income for a PT in 2010 was about $80,000. Salaries ranged from about $60,000 to about $120,000, depending on the state, city, years of work experience, and type of facility (private practice, clinic, hospital, etc).

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