Physical Therapist

* Last Updated on September 23, 2021

Physical therapy refers to rehabilitative health that uses modernized equipment to help patients recover from their physical problems. Physical therapy is also abbreviated as PT. Physical therapy is appropriate for many types of patients, including infants with musculoskeletal birth disorders, adults ailing from Sciatica, or those with after-effects of surgery or injury. Besides, elderly post-stroke patients can also be affected.

Physical therapy uses electrotherapy, evidence-based kinesiology, joint mobilization, shockwave modality, and health education to treat acute tissue pain, cartilage damages, tissue injuries, arthritis disorders, and any other physical impairments. Through physical intervention, rehabilitation, education, and physical diagnosis, therapists can improve their patient’s bodily functions.

However, there are some other activities involved in physical therapy like; consultation, education, research, and administration. Physical therapy can also be provided as an essential care treatment along with other medical services. In some countries like the United Kingdom, physical therapists can prescribe medicine.

Physical Therapist Job Description

Physical therapists can assess your condition, help you gain back your independence and functional mobility. They use several modalities of treatment to help you move smoothly, and better with more personalized treatments. If you have injuries that result in pain, physical impairments, the overall loss of body function, you can consult a professional physical therapist.

Teaching someone to walk again or helping someone to get rid of acute arthritis can be very challenging for a therapist, and at the same time, it can be immensely challenging. A physical therapist will not only work on your physical functioning and your movement but will also promote your general wellness and improve the quality of your life. Physical therapists help to reduce surgeries, and the need to get drugs. Often, physical therapists can develop an outstanding relationship with their patients, thus encouraging patients with physical dysfunction to full recovery.

A physical therapist assistant (PTA) can only operate under the supervision of a physical therapist. To practice as a PTA, you need to have a two-year associate degree. However, becoming a physical therapist entails years of training and education in areas like kinesiology, anatomy, physical fitness, and biology. Most physical therapists also learn psychology to understand and deal with the client’s emotional challenges from the physical pain they are experiencing.

Before enrolling to become a physical therapist, you need to have several prerequisites. These prerequisites include having a bachelor’s degree with extensive coverage of the following topics:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Physiology

For you to work as a physical therapist, you need to obtain a physical therapy degree from a recognized institution of higher learning. It is vital to apply using the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Services (PTCAS). To become a doctor in physical therapy, you need to have vast experience in topics like functional anatomy, lifespan development, complex conditions, and applied physiotherapy.

Although being a physical therapist (PT) can be challenging, it is rewarding, especially after successfully helping a patient. Physical therapists not only diagnose but also treat patients who have health conditions that limit how they perform their day to day activities and their ability to move.

Usually, physical therapists inquire about their patient’s medical history, evaluate their symptoms, and develop a rehabilitation plan that meets the needs and goals of the patient. To help the patient alleviate the pain, or strengthen the muscles, physical therapists (PTs) work directly with their patients. The approach or rehabilitation plans might vary from one PT to another, but the objectives are always the same.

Responsibilities of a physical therapist

  • Consult with a patient to determine their physical condition and symptoms
  • Assisting patients on how to use the equipment, e.g., walkers and wheelchairs
  • Provide massage or manual exercises to facilitate healing
  • Teaching patients how to use therapeutic exercise techniques
  • Maintaining good patient records while carefully determining the patient’s recovery journey
  • Advising the patient or family members on in-home treatment options available
  • Educate their patients on physical therapy, physical therapists ergonomics and ways to promote their health
  • Refer their patients to community resources and services
  • Evaluate the treatment plan, treatment at various stages and adjust accordingly to help their clients
  • Record treatment, prognosis, and response in a patient’s chart

Physical therapists can work in a wide range of settings, thus offering flexibility throughout your career. Some of the institutions where a PT can work in include:

  • Schools
  • Home health services
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Government organizations
  • Research centers
  • Sports & fitness facilities
  • Outpatient clinics

How to Become a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists undergo thorough education and gain vast clinical experience. The curriculum is designed to give you a good foundation. As a result, you can start offering professional services right after graduation. However, if you would like to specialize in specific areas/disciplines, you need additional training.

Education and Training

A while ago, one could qualify as a professional PT with either a bachelor’s or master’s degrees. However, nowadays, one is required to complete sophisticated training to be eligible for the role. The American Physical Therapy Association in the United States allows the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree only to new students. A Master’s degree in PT is not offered to new students! To become a professional physical therapist, you need to complete a three years course in an institution that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

Additionally, you need to pass a national PT exam and apply a state license to provide professional services. After graduation, you can opt to enroll for a fellowship or residency program, especially if you want to specialize in offering specific services, although it is optional. Such programs can help you get a board certification faster and with ease.


Certified physical therapists have a better chance of new employments or leadership positions, which can translate to higher earnings. To be certified as a PT, you have to pass a written exam and complete 2,000 hours of clinical experience in your area of specialty. Here are the areas available for board certifications:

  • Pediatrics
  • Neurology
  • Orthopedics
  • Geriatrics
  • Cardiovascular & pulmonary
  • Sports physical therapy
  • Women’s health
  • Clinical electrophysiology
  • Oncology

Career Outlook

Physical therapy is a broad profession that offers a wide variety of advancement opportunities. Besides practicing in several healthcare settings, you can specialize in more than one area. You can oversee other PT staff, open your own business to provide private physical therapy sessions, or work as an educator/professor. Your career path as a PT is determined by your level of education, specialization, and preference. Some of the areas you can specialize in include:

  • Neurological physical therapist – treats conditions that are related to the nervous system, e.g., cerebral palsy or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Orthopedic physical therapist – this area focuses on the musculoskeletal system, e.g., ligaments, tendons, and bones
  • Geriatric physical therapist – focuses on the needs of seniors/older people, e.g., osteoporosis and arthritis
  • Cardiopulmonary physical therapist – focuses on patients who have heart and lung diseases, e.g., heart attack
  • Pediatric physical therapist – treats children, infants, and teens who have congenital disabilities, head trauma or developmental delays

Salary and Benefits

Although the salary of a PT can vary depending on various factors such as location, years of experience, and the field of expertise, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics in the US, a PT should earn an annual salary of $85,400. The benefits and salary can vary depending on where you live, level of experience, and expertise. For instance, the cost of living in your area can determine your salary. Also, your environment can determine the salary. Working for a large company offers more benefits and a higher salary. Check out the latest salary report for a physical therapist.

If you are a travel PT, you can enjoy transport, housing allowances, and tax-free food. You also have the liberty to travel around the country, create good memories, and help people live a quality life. In the US, the states that have a higher demand for PT include Washington, New England, Florida, Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, and New York. Other benefits of becoming a PT include:

  • Licensure fee reimbursements
  • Generous house allowance or free private housing
  • Health, life, and dental insurance
  • Refunds for all your travel expenses
  • Referral bonuses
  • Mentorship for travel PTs
  • Competitive salaries

Most professional PTs enjoy helping other people recover from surgeries or physical injuries. It is among one of the most rewarding benefits of working as a professional PT, although there are plenty of other benefits. Working as a PT in developed countries like China, the United Kingdom, and Canada and France has numerous benefits. In some states or countries, a physical therapist can earn more than $100,000 per year. This can be quite satisfying, primarily if you work for a multinational company or provide private PT services.

The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Physical Therapist

Like any other career, physiotherapy has both pros and cons. The advantages of being a PT include:

  1. Good salary – most people consider a salary when choosing a career. It is normal as we all look forward to supporting ourselves and our loved ones who depend on us. Physical therapy is one of the highest-paid careers in the world today. Besides, PTs can take part-time jobs to supplement their salaries.
  2. Job opportunities – PTs not only have job security but also boast tremendous job opportunities. There has been a growing demand as more people need physiotherapy. Our lifestyle has affected a lot of people, thus creating numerous job opportunities in the PT sector.
  3. Variety of working places – physical therapists can work anywhere, including schools, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and fitness centers. You can choose where to work and whom to work with, ranging from adults to toddlers. You can work anywhere you deem convenient as far as you are a qualified and licensed PT.
  4. Knowledge of science and health – to become a PT, there are specific things you should accomplish. This includes learning a lot about science and health. Physical therapists are among the most educated people in society.
  5. You can start your own business – if you prefer self-employment, you can start your own practice and earn good pay. There are plenty of PTs who have stared their own practice successfully.

Cons of being a physical therapist:

  1. Spending a lot of time in school – besides taking 3 to 4 years to obtain a degree in physical therapy, you may have to spend some time at a physical therapy school to gain more knowledge and skills
  2. The career is demanding – being a PT is demanding both physically and mentally. You have to pass an exam, gain experience in hands-on activities, and work every day to help your patients through recovery. The career is demanding, thus requires dedication, passion, and hard work.
  3. License renewal – to practice, you need to have a valid license. You have to renew your license after two years to ensure you are familiar with the new treatment regulations and procedures. You may have to attend a retreat or some sort of training to renew your license. Remember, you cannot practice if you do not have a permit, or you have not renewed your license.
  4. Cost of education – to obtain an undergraduate degree in PT is costly. You may have to get a student loan to cover tuition fees. Sometimes, you may incur more expenses if you get specialized training.
  5. Dealing with patients – physical therapists deal with numerous patients (ranging from toddlers to seniors), and they all have different health problems. It is not easy dealing with patients because some have severe problems, for instance, trauma or grievous injuries. This is why some physical therapists study counseling and psychology.

Career Advice/Tips

If you want to become a physical therapist, here are some career advice you should heed:

  • Take personality tests to help you determine if the career suits you or whether you are ready for the challenge
  • Consider the big picture – you will be making a career decision. You do not need to settle in a career you do not like. Hence, consider the big picture by thinking of 20 or 30 years from now
  • Find a mentor – finding an experienced professional who has been in the PT industry for years is advisable. Your mentor will not only help you make the right career choices but also motivate and advise you when things get tough

There are both advantages and disadvantages of becoming a physical therapist. If you are considering becoming one, it is advisable to take your time to learn more about the career. Additionally, interacting with professionals in this field can help you make up your mind with ease. Finally, it is crucial to understand that physical therapy services can be provided by either a physical therapist or a physical therapist assistant who is working under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.