Physical Therapists Job Description, Training & Salary Information

Physical therapists help individuals who are physically impaired through injury or illness regain their ability to perform their normal daily routines.

Posted 2010

Physical therapists job description: A physical therapist works with patients who are physically impaired by providing treatment in order to help them restore mobility and limb function or manage physical disabilities so that they can return to their normal daily activities. Physical therapists evaluate patients and create customized treatment plans using a variety of specialized techniques. In addition, they may also assist patients to prevent the loss of physical mobility by implementing fitness and wellness plans so that they can experience improved health and wellness.

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The responsibilities of physical therapists include reviewing patients’ medical histories, assessing their strength and motion abilities, and evaluating their balance, coordination and motor function. The treatment plans physical therapists develop usually include exercises for patients to improve flexibility and endurance. They encourage patients to utilize their muscles to increase flexibility gradually until they can take on exercises that improve their strength. Devices for stimulation, temperature compresses and ultrasound may also be used. Physical therapists treat all types of physical impairments, and some may specialize in certain clinical areas.

Physical Therapists Job Summary

  • The majority of physical therapists are employed in the offices of health practitioners, hospitals and home healthcare centers.
  • A graduate degree and licensure is required to become a physical therapist.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment in this field to grow much faster than average.

Work Environment for Physical Therapists

Most physical therapists work in clinics, hospitals and private offices. Usually these settings are designed specifically for physical therapy and contain special equipment. The work can be physically strenuous at times because therapists often need to be on their feet for long periods of time while working with patients. They may also be required to move equipment as well as lift patients and help them with standing and walking. Most physical therapists work 40 hours per week; some may work nights and weekends. Part-time work is also available in this field.

How to Become a Physical Therapist - Education, Training and Licensing

In order to become a physical therapist, candidates must enroll in an academic program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and earn either a master's or doctoral degree in physical therapy. Typical coursework in these programs includes biology, physiology, neuroscience and behavioral science, among others. Clinical courses and lab instruction usually include medical screening, diagnostic procedures and assessment strategies. Accredited programs also require supervised experience in a clinical setting.

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Students enrolled in an undergraduate degree program can prepare for this field by taking courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy, math and physics. Volunteering in a healthcare or physical therapy facility is also important, as many physical therapy programs require previous experience.

Physical therapists must be licensed in all 50 states. To obtain licensure, individuals must graduate from an accredited physical therapy degree program, pass a national exam and fulfill additional requirements that may vary by state. In addition, many states require physical therapists to complete continuing education courses in order to renew their license.

Individuals wishing to pursue a career in this field need to have good interpersonal skills. Since therapists frequently discuss their patient’s conditions and treatment plans with both patients and their family members, good communication skills are very important for this job. Physical therapists must also be sensitive, caring and enjoy helping others, and they should possess good decision-making and clinical reasoning skills in order to provide accurate diagnoses.

Physical Therapists Salary Information and Job Projections

Physical therapists held approximately 200,670 jobs in May 2014, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most of these positions were in the offices of physicians and other health practitioners, hospitals, home healthcare services and nursing care facilities.

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The BLS expects that employment in this field will grow much faster than the average for all occupations over the coming years. This is due to the easing of reimbursement restrictions for treatments, which allow more patients access to physical therapy services.

BLS records for May 2014 indicate that the average annual salary for physical therapists was $83,940. Therapists in the middle 50% bracket earned between $68,690 and $96,060, while the lowest 10% made roughly $56,800. The highest 10% earned approximately $116,090 per year.

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