Physical Therapist Degree Programs and Training
Physical therapists work with patients who have problems with mobility, including those who have suffered injuries or illnesses. Physical therapists work with those patients to help improve their movement, which might include exercises, stretching, hands-on therapy, and the use of certain equipment. The treatments aim to increase mobility, reduce or relieve pain, prevent further injury or pain, and improve general health. Physical therapists might try a variety of tactics to bring their patients the relief they seek, and so their approaches can vary depending upon the specific needs of the patient.
Physical therapist degree programs
Becoming a physical therapist starts with earning a bachelor's degree, then moving into a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. At the bachelor's degree level, students can expect courses in physiology, biology, chemistry, anatomy and physics. Once the bachelor's degree is complete, students can apply for the DPT program, which includes intensive coursework on physiology, anatomy, biomechanics, pharmacology and neuroscience. The bachelor's degree typically requires four years of full-time study to complete, while the DPT program is an additional three years.
Internships are usually required during pursuit of the DPT. These internships allow students to gain hands-on experience in a variety of areas, such as orthopedics. Upon graduation, training continues with a one-year residency, during which time the physical therapist receives additional training in various specialties. Those who want to gain even more experience and credentials can look into a fellowship. After earning the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, physical therapists must obtain a license in order to practice.
Physical therapist training
License requirements for physical therapists vary by state, but they all have one thing in common: passing the National Physical Therapy Examination, administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states might also require a background check or law exam.
Those who want to become board-certified can undergo further training to achieve that goal. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers eight clinical specialty areas for physical therapists. Obtaining a board certification requires at least 2,000 hours of clinical work or completion of a residency program in the specialty, as well as passing an examination.
Continuing education is a must for physical therapists in order to keep their license current. To learn more about continuing education in a particular state, visit the state board for requirements.
Physical therapist career outlook
Those who want to work as physical therapists could see a robust job market in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), employment of physical therapists is expected to increase by 36 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. This healthy growth will be driven by an aging baby boomer generation, a rise in chronic conditions, significant advances in medical technology and the growing number of individuals with access to physical therapy, thanks to federal health care reform. Though physical therapists can find work in a variety of medical settings, job prospects should be best in skilled-nursing facilities, orthopedic settings and acute-care hospitals. Those who are willing to work in rural areas might also see better opportunities.
Physical therapists made a median wage of $81,030 in 2013, according to the BLS. The top ten percent made $113,340, while the bottom ten percent made $56,280. Top paying industries for physical therapists include schools and instruction, home health care services, skilled nursing facilities, individual and family services, and continuing care or assisted living facilities. Physical therapists can expect to find the highest wages paid in Nevada, Alaska, California, Texas and New Jersey.
Physical therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-1
Physical therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm