How to Become a Physical Therapist

Physical Therapist
Physical Therapist Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year$92,920
Avg. Pay / hour$44.67
Education3-4 Years
Outlook22%
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A physical therapist works with a client to allow them to gain the maximum amount of movement, strength and mobility throughout their lives.

A person normally sees a physical therapist when they are having problems with movement due to aging, illness, injury, or environmental factors.

A physical therapist, sometimes known as a PT, helps people to increase their range movement and strength through a range of physical activities and exercises.

A physical therapist will meet with a client and analyze their medical history.

They will make a diagnosis based on a patient’s history, a physical examination, as well as other methods such as external testing and x-rays.

Based on the diagnosis they will determine a treatment plan.

A treatment plan could include exercise, massage, and strength training amongst other activities.

Treatment may occur over weeks, months, or even years.

Physical therapy involves more than just rehabilitating clients.

It also focuses on education and prevention, as well as intervention, in situations where damage to the body can be avoided.

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Education Requirements to Become a Physical Therapist

To become a physical therapist, you will need a four year bachelor’s degree in physical therapy.

Alternatively, you can complete a bachelor’s degree in another area, then complete a master’s in physical therapy.

You will need a good education base in math, science, and health.

These subjects will form a good part of your coursework in college, as well as anatomy, nutrition, and other knowledge that will complement your occupation.

In all states you need to be licensed to work as a physical therapist.

In most places you will need to take a state set exam, and also participate in continuing education.

You can find out about your state’s specific requirements at the American Physical Therapy Association, or APTA’s, website.

It can be competitive to get your first job in physical therapy, so participating in internships while at college can be very helpful.

You may like to apply to hospitals and rehabilitation centers where you would like to work, as these positions can often lead to a full-time job after graduation.

If you are able to get a part-time job in a nursing home, hospital, or similar, then this will really stand out on your resume also.

Excellent interpersonal skills will be handy in this role, you’ll often have to speak with frustrated patients and family members that are unhappy with their treatment or situation.

Physical Therapist Job Description

When you become a physical therapist, you will work with a wide range of clients.

There are many reasons that people see a physical therapist.

They may have suffered an injury, been in an accident, or be suffering from an illness that jeopardizes movements.

Many elderly people also need the services of a physical therapist.

To start with, a physical therapist will take the client’s medical history, along with the details of their current problems.

They will complete a range of tests themselves to determine the client’s condition.

That may also take x-rays, and administer other tests.

Based on their findings they will develop a treatment plan that could be made up of a range of activities, including regular sessions with the PT, exercise, stretching, and strength building.

Physical therapists also believe in education and prevention.

They will often give clients health advice, or may even visit schools or community centers to share their knowledge.

Here are some of the tasks of a physical therapist:

  • Meet with clients
  • Take a medical history
  • Perform tests on movement and strength
  • Develop a treatment plan
  • Follow up with client

Physical Therapist Salary and Career Path

Physical therapists work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and in private consulting offices.

Many PTs go on to specialize in a particular area, such as neurology or pediatrics.

Gaining a specialty when you become a physical therapist can help you to achieve a higher salary.

The median wage of a physical therapist is $72,000 a year.

The growth in this sector is faster than many other industries due to the aging population.

While there are plenty of employment opportunities, it should be noted that this is a popular career choice so strong competition for open positions should be expected.

Many physical therapists go on to work in other areas of health.

They could include:

  • Recreational Therapist
  • Speech Pathologist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Psychologist
  • Neuropsychologist

If you’re looking for a career in health that involved working closely with your patients, you might like to become a physical therapist.

There are good opportunities across the country, and a good salary is available for those pursuing this career.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$92,920
$61K
$77K
$92K
$101K
$127K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$94,210
Alaska$96,980
Arizona$94,700
Arkansas$88,190
California$103,510
Colorado$89,870
Connecticut$101,180
Delaware$100,490
District of Columbia$96,070
Florida$90,630
Georgia$93,980
Hawaii$90,000
Idaho$85,880
Illinois$93,130
Indiana$91,110
Iowa$83,860
Kansas$89,380
Kentucky$86,890
Louisiana$96,140
Maine$85,620
Maryland$90,710
Massachusetts$91,840
Michigan$83,160
Minnesota$86,370
Mississippi$95,990
Missouri$84,230
Montana$82,660
Nebraska$89,160
Nevada$104,210
New Hampshire$86,220
New Jersey$99,530
New Mexico$97,190
New York$91,890
North Carolina$85,750
North Dakota$81,480
Ohio$92,680
Oklahoma$89,010
Oregon$90,450
Pennsylvania$94,400
Rhode Island$97,580
South Carolina$83,270
South Dakota$83,820
Tennessee$89,960
Texas$98,340
Utah$88,240
Vermont$85,440
Virginia$90,770
Washington$97,420
West Virginia$94,100
Wisconsin$89,300
Wyoming$89,190
Puerto Rico$41,530

The top earning state in the field is Nevada, where the average salary is $104,210.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Nevada - $104,210
California - $103,510
Connecticut - $101,180
Delaware - $100,490
New Jersey - $99,530
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Physical Therapists, OCC Code 29-1123, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a physical therapist?

Physical therapists are professionals who help injured or ill people improve their mobility and live a healthy life.

Physical therapy is an important part of the rehabilitation and treatment of chronic conditions or injuries.

Before developing an individualized plan for each patient, physical therapists review the patient’s medical history and evaluate his or her condition by observation and by listening to the patient’s concerns.

After performing this assessment, the physical therapist develops a rehabilitation/treatment plan that includes exercises, hands-on therapy and other maneuvers to help the patient recover.

Physical therapists also evaluate and record their patient’s progress and adjust the recovery plan, if necessary.

As a physical therapist, you will need a variety of skills, including compassion, dexterity, physical stamina and good listening and communication skills.

How much does a physical therapist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physical therapists was $87,930 in May 2018.

Salaries in this field vary based on a variety of factors, including the industry of employment and the therapist’s experience.

Some earn around $60,000 per year while others make more than $120,000 a year.

How much does it cost to become a physical therapist?

Physical therapists need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited school and must possess a state license.

DPT programs usually can be completed in around 3 years and can cost anywhere between $75,000 and more than $100,000, depending on the school you choose.

Before enrolling at a DPT program you will typically need a bachelor’s degree.

Four-year bachelor’s degree programs cost, on average, around $80,000-$90,000 but costs vary widely depending on the school you choose and the program itself.

In order to be able to practice as a physical therapist, you will need a state license.

Licensing requirements vary by state but all states require physical therapists to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Later in your career, you can also seek board-certification.

The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers certification in several specialties, including orthopedics, sports, and geriatrics.

Before qualifying for board certification you will need at least 2,000 hours of clinical work in the specialty and you must also pass an exam.

What is the demand for physical therapists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for physical therapists is expected to grow 22 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Physical therapists will be needed especially in hospitals and nursing facilities where the elderly are treated.

Those who specialize in geriatrics or have expertise in a number of chronic conditions, such as diabetics and obesity should have good job prospects.

How long does it take to become a physical therapist?

Physical therapists need a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, which typically can be earned in around 3 years.

Before enrolling at a DPT program you will also need to complete a bachelor’s degree program, which usually lasts 4 years.

After earning your DPT degree you will also need a state-license in order to be able to practice.

Later in your career, you can also seek board-certification in the area where you want to specialize.

Jamie Willis