How to Become a Physical Therapist
Physical Therapist Careers & Degrees

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.

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.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$90,170
$62K
$73K
$90K
$104K
$124K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$92,570
Alaska$102,650
Arizona$89,350
Arkansas$85,710
California$99,920
Colorado$86,740
Connecticut$98,780
Delaware$96,520
District of Columbia$93,140
Florida$86,090
Georgia$87,590
Hawaii$92,650
Idaho$80,360
Illinois$91,750
Indiana$86,670
Iowa$82,940
Kansas$88,310
Kentucky$85,260
Louisiana$89,560
Maine$80,380
Maryland$89,890
Massachusetts$90,860
Michigan$90,500
Minnesota$84,280
Mississippi$91,050
Missouri$84,180
Montana$82,130
Nebraska$85,100
Nevada$108,550
New Hampshire$84,610
New Jersey$99,060
New Mexico$94,430
New York$90,880
North Carolina$88,020
North Dakota$81,630
Ohio$87,600
Oklahoma$91,480
Oregon$87,200
Pennsylvania$88,450
Rhode Island$85,540
South Carolina$85,650
South Dakota$77,130
Tennessee$84,720
Texas$89,630
Utah$85,880
Vermont$81,020
Virginia$91,930
Washington$88,010
West Virginia$92,320
Wisconsin$88,570
Wyoming$91,030
Puerto Rico$45,120
Virgin Islands$66,270

The top earning state in the field is Nevada, where the average salary is $108,550.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Nevada - $108,550
Alaska - $102,650
California - $99,920
New Jersey - $99,060
Connecticut - $98,780
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Physical Therapists, OCC Code 29-1123, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat 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.

QuestionHow 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.

QuestionHow 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.

QuestionWhat 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.

QuestionHow 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.

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