Physical Therapists Overview

Over half of physical therapists are employed in hospitals or offices of other health practitioners. They are required to earn a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapist degree program. Job growth is projected to be faster than average of all occupations and job opportunities are expected to be good.

Nature of the Work for Physical Therapists

Physical Therapists

A physical therapist (PT) diagnoses and treats patients of all ages who suffer from illnesses, medical problems, injuries that restrict their ability to move. After examining each person, they create a treatment plan to promote the ability to move, restore function, prevent disability and reduce pain. They also help to develop fitness and wellness-oriented programs to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs.

Physical therapists give care to individuals of any age who have problems functioning as a result of, for example, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, burns, stroke, amputations, conditions such as spinabifida and cerebral palsy and work and sport related injuries. While physical therapists prove the primary care and services, a physical therapist assistant works under the supervision and direction of a physical therapist. Physical therapists diagnose and evaluate dysfunction in movement and treat patients with interventions. Such interventions may include functional training, assistive and adaptive devices and equipment, manual therapy techniques, electrotherapeutic modalities and therapeutic exercise.

Physical therapists frequently collaborate with a variety of other professionals such as physicians, nurses, social workers, dentists, educators, occupational therapists, audiologists and speech language pathologists.

Physical therapists practice in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private offices that have specially equipped facilities. These jobs can be physically demanding, because therapists may have to stoop, kneel, crouch, lift, and stand for long periods. In addition, physical therapists move heavy equipment and lift patients or help them turn, stand, or walk.

The majority of physical therapists who worked full-time worked the typical 40-hour workweek. Others work evenings and weekends to accommodate their patients’ schedules. Close to 27 percent of physical therapists work part-time.

Physical therapists work in hospitals, private offices and outpatient clinics with specially equipped facilities. A physical therapists job is usually physically demanding as they move heavy equipment; stoop, crouch, kneel, stand and lift for long periods; and lift patients to help them stand, turn or walk.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Physical Therapists

Presently, the only accredited physical therapist degree programs offer graduate degrees. There are currently 212 physical therapist education programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Educate (CAPTE), the accrediting body of the American Physical Therapy Association. While 200 of these accredited programs awarded doctoral degrees, only 12 awarded masters degrees. A physical therapy masters degree program normally extends 2 to 2.5 years and the doctoral degree programs last 3 years.

Physical therapist education programs include both classroom and laboratory instruction, granting students supervised clinical experience. Fundamental courses include foundational science courses including anatomy, biology, cellular histology, neuroscience, pharmacology, physiology, and pathology, in addition to behavioral science courses, such as clinical reasoning and evidence-based practice. Clinically-based courses for physical therapists include outcomes assessment, practice management and therapeutic techniques.

Undergraduates who plan on pursing a graduate degree in physical therapy are encouraged to take biology, chemistry, anatomy, social science, statistics, mathematics, physics. Before granting admission, many programs require volunteer experience in the physical therapy department of a hospital or clinic.

Each State has its own physical therapist eligibility requirements. Usually, a physical therapist is required to graduate from an accredited physical therapy education program; pass the National Physical Therapy Examination; and fulfill any other State requirements that may be necessary. Many states mandate continuing education in order to maintain licensure.

All physical therapists should be possess compassionate qualities with the desire to help patients. They also must have strong people and communication skills in order to educate patients about their physical therapy treatments.

Advancement for physical therapists varies among professional institutions. Some are expected to participate in continuing education workshops and courses. Others become board certified in a clinical specialty, or move onto research or academia. Some become self-employed by opening up a private practice or providing contract services.

Top 10 Most Popular Physical Therapy/Therapist Schools

1. Ithaca College (Ithaca, New York)
2. University of Kentucky (Lexington, Kentucky)
3. Texas Woman's University (Denton, Texas)
4. Thomas Jefferson University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
5. University of Missouri, Columbia (Columbia, Missouri)
6. Quinnipiac University, Hamden (Hamden, Connecticut)
7. Northeastern University (Boston, Massachusetts)
8. University of Oklahoma - Health Sciences Center (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
9. Saint Louis University (Saint Louis, Missouri)
10. University of Evansville (Evansville, Indiana)

See All Physical Therapy/Therapist Schools

Most Popular Online Physical Therapy/Therapist Schools

1. Ashworth College - Online School
2. Nova Southeastern University - Online School
3. A.T.Still University - School of Health Management
4. Utica College - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Physical Therapists

Number of People in Profession

174,490

Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow much faster than average (increase 20% or more).

Physical therapists hold about 185,500 jobs. Because many physical therapists work two part-time jobs, there are probably a greater number of jobs than there are practicing physical therapists.

Close to 60 percent of physical therapists work in hospitals or offices of other health practitioners. Some physical therapists are employed in nursing care facilities, home healthcare services industry, offices of physicians and outpatient care centers. Others have a private practice and contract services to rehabilitation centers, hospitals, nursing care facilities, adult day care programs and schools. They may also conduct research and teach in academic institutions.

Job growth of physical therapists is expected to increase by 30 percent in the next decade, which is faster than average for all occupations. Third-party payers will increase patient access to physical therapy services due to changes to restrictions on reimbursement for physical therapy services. As the number of elderly individuals increase, a demand for physical therapy services will increase. A growing demand for cardiac and physical rehabilitation will occur as the baby-boomer generation enters the prime age for strokes and heart attacks. Job growth will also occur due to the greater percentage of newborns with birth defects and trauma victims that will survive due to advances in medical technology.

The federally mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that guarantees that students have access to services from physical therapists will continue to provide job opportunities for therapists.

Licensed physical therapists should expect good job opportunities in all settings. They should be especially good where the elderly are most often treated, including skilled nursing, orthopedic and acute hospital settings. Job prospects should be the highest in rural areas because they are currently clustered into urban and suburban areas.

Earnings and Salary for Physical Therapists

Physical therapists median annual wage is $74,480. The highest 10 percent earn more than $105,900, while the lowest 10 percent earn less than $52,170. The middle 50 percent earned between $62,270 and $87,940. The median annual wages in top employing industries for physical therapists are:

Home health care services: $77,630
Nursing care facilities: $76,680
General medical and surgical hospitals: $73,270
Offices of physicians: $72,790
Offices of other health practitioners: $71,400

Annual Salary for Physical Therapists

On average, Physical Therapists earn $74,480 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $52,170/yr $62,270/yr $87,940/yr $105,900/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook