Physical Therapist - Career

Physical Therapy Career Information

Physical therapists held about 204, 200 jobs in 2012. Physical therapists typically work in private offices and clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes.

The industries that employed the most physical therapists in 2012 were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 33%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 28
Home health care services 11
Nursing and residential care facilities
Offices of physicians

Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, working with patients. Because they must often lift and move patients, they are vulnerable to back injuries. Therapists can limit these risks by using proper body mechanics and lifting techniques when assisting patients.

Work Schedules

Most physical therapists work full time. About 1 in 4 worked part time in 2012. Although most therapists work during normal business hours, some may work evenings or weekends.

Physical therapists need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.


Get the education you need: Find schools for Physical Therapists near you!

In 2013, there were 218 programs for physical therapists accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, all of which offered a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.

DPT programs typically last 3 years. Most programs require a bachelor's degree for admission as well as specific prerequisites, such as anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, and physics. Most DPT programs require applicants to apply through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).

Physical therapist programs often include courses in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and pharmacology. Physical therapist students also complete clinical internships, during which they gain supervised experience in areas such as acute care and orthopedic care.

Physical therapists may apply to and complete a clinical residency program after graduation. Residencies typically last about 1 year and provide additional training and experience in specialty areas of care. Therapists who have completed a residency program may choose to specialize further by completing a fellowship in an advanced clinical area.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require physical therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state but all include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Several states also require a law exam and a criminal background check. Continuing education is typically required for physical therapists to keep their license. Check with state boards for specific licensing requirements.

After gaining work experience, some physical therapists choose to become a board-certified specialist. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers certification in 8 clinical specialty areas, including orthopedics and geriatric physical therapy. Board specialist certification requires passing an exam and at least 2, 000 hours of clinical work or completion of an APTA-accredited residency program in the specialty area.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Physical therapists are often drawn to the profession in part by a desire to help people. They work with people who are in pain and must have empathy for their patients.

Detail oriented. Like other healthcare providers, physical therapists should have strong analytic and observational skills to diagnose a patient's problem, evaluate treatments, and provide safe, effective care.

Dexterity. Physical therapists must use their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. They should feel comfortable massaging and otherwise physically assisting patients.

Interpersonal skills. Because physical therapists spend a lot of time interacting with patients, they should enjoy working with people. They must be able to explain treatment programs, motivate patients, and listen to patients' concerns to provide effective therapy.

Physical stamina. Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, moving as they work with patients. They should enjoy physical activity.

Resourcefulness. Physical therapists customize treatment plans for patients. They must be flexible and able to adapt plans of care to meet the needs of each patient.

The median annual wage for physical therapists was $79, 860 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55, 620, and the top 10 percent earned more than $112, 020.

Employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 36 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Demand for physical therapy services will come from the aging baby boomers, who are staying more active later in life than their counterparts of previous generations. Older persons are more likely to experience heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries that require physical therapy for rehabilitation.

In addition, the incidence of patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, is growing. More physical therapists will be needed to help these patients maintain their mobility and manage the effects of chronic conditions.

Advances in medical technology have increased the use of outpatient surgery to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. Medical and technological developments also are expected to permit a greater percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care. Physical therapists will continue to play an important role in helping these patients recover more quickly from surgery.

Furthermore, the number of individuals who have access to physical therapy services may increase because of federal health insurance reform. Physical therapists will be needed to assist these patients with rehabilitation and treatment of any chronic conditions or injuries.

Job Prospects

Job opportunities will likely be good for licensed physical therapists in all settings. Job prospects should be particularly good in acute-care hospitals, skilled-nursing facilities, and orthopedic settings, where the elderly are most often treated. Job prospects should be especially favorable in rural areas, because many physical therapists live in highly populated urban and suburban areas.

Employment projections data for Physical Therapists, 2012-22
Occupational Title Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22
Percent Numeric

Physical therapists

204, 200 277, 700 36 73, 500

Audiologists diagnose and treat a patient’s hearing and balance problems using advanced technology and procedures.

Champion Fitness Physical Therapy (IL) Career Information
Champion Fitness Physical Therapy (IL) Career Information
Physical Therapist Career Information
Physical Therapist Career Information
Physical Therapist
Physical Therapist
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