How to Become a Physical Therapist

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Physical Therapist? What Physical Therapist do? Degrees for Physical Therapist, Steps to become Physical Therapist and much more.


What does a Physical Therapist do?

A physical therapist is a professional who is trained to focus on the patients exercise plans, improve flexibility, stamina, strength and manage their pain through constant motivation.

They provide healthcare for patients of all ages with medical conditions such as an accident, fracture,  sprains, illness, injuries, neurology disorder and other chronic conditions by developing an effective treatment plan.

  • Learn about the patient's condition and medical history

  • Conduct est on the patients to identify the problem

  • Interpret the test results and design the course of treatment

  • Assess The patients with subtitle treatment and modify it accordingly during the recovery phase

  • Effective use of suitable equipments, therapies and exercises to facilitate health  and wellness

  • Direct the technicians and assistants about the treatment plans

  • Educate their patients on what to expect and the changes they face during the treatment process

Salary for a physical therapist

According to the 202, the salary data for a physical  therapist in the United States is about $87,479 per year and typically ranges between $80,585 and $94,913 and this depends on the education, requirements, certification stand out skills and also the work experience gained.

Job growth

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment opportunities for a physical  therapist is expected to grow about 28 percent during the period of 2016 to 2026, which is considered as a rapid growth compared to the occupations.

This is due to the increased demand for a physical therapist and the present generation go to them for feting their injuries, and other medical conditions treated. There are currently 239,800 physical therapists working in the United States

Steps to become a Physical Therapist 

A physical therapist works with patients of all ages. Even after the population ages, the physical therapist gets continuous opportunities to advance in their fields, and this required you complete suitable education and follow these steps to land on the job,

Step 1- Earn a Bachelor's degree

You must earn a Bachelor's degree at any health related field to gain some prerequisite knowledge before entering the doctoral degree. You could choose your discipline such as Anatomy, Physiology, Biology, Chemistry, Physics. 

This program is essential before you enroll in the professional Doctor of Physical Therapy( DPT) program.

Step 2- Complete the Doctor of Physical Therapy program

After completing the undergrad degree, you should aim at earning the DPT program which is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) for a period of 3 years, where they provide more than 200 fields of specialisation.

You must apply for the DPT program through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) and after the coursework gain clinical experience at an internship under a senior therapist. 

Step 3-  Obtain the License

According to state regulations, PTs must obtain a license to get the job and this includes clearing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). The exam is computerised and consists of objective type questions which test the aptitude of the candidate based on practice and theoretical physical therapy. For issuing the license, the criminal background check is done. You are also required to continue the education credits to keep the license active 

Step 4- Complete the Residency

This is an optional clinical residency program you can choose after earning the DPT degree. It provides hands-on experience in the specialty areas by completing 1500 hours of clinical experience where you get to complete it within 36 months. Students are benefited by this program by conducting research while they are guided under the direct supervision of a licensed therapist.

Step 5- Get a Certification

After gaining experience in the professional field of physical therapy, you can apply for a certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties(ABPTS). You require a total experience of 2000 hours of clinical experience to become a certified Physical Therapist. The 8 specialisation areas  include the, 

  • Sports - both amateur and professional athletics

  • Orthopedics

  • Geriatrics

  • Neurology

  • Clinical electrophysiology

  • Cardiovascular & pulmonary

  • Pulmonary

  • Women’s health

Types of degree for a Physical Therapist

If you are thinking of becoming a physical therapist, here are several degree options for his career. Students can get an Associate’s degree or Bachelor's degree and start off their career with some practical experience. However, a Master’s degree in Physical Therapy is no longer offered by the American Physical Therapy Association. The degrees you can choose are,

Associate’s degree for Physical therapist

An Associate’s degree is a two years program where you can get the skills and knowledge for an entry level job and they can again experience as they work with patients. This program offers both classroom instructions and practical training under the licensed therapist. 

Bachelor's degree in Physical therapy:

In this four years program, students learn the role and duties of the physical therapists. This lets students to get a comprehensive knowledge on the field with diverse coursework and also acts as a stepping stone to the doctoral degree. This gives the necessary prerequisites to enter into the doctoral degree and become professional.

Doctoral degree in physical therapy:

You can take the Doctor of Physical Therapy program after earning a bachelor's degree in a health related field. You could also choose this if you have worked as a physical therapy assistant or in any health related positions. 

The DPT program is 80 percent classroom learning and the 20 percent is lab studies which includes subjects such as biology, functional anatomy, cellular histology, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, pathology and other.

Online course for physical therapy

You can also choose the online courses available from an online physical therapy school. You must always research about the details of the online program, the course offered and whether it  aligns with your career goals. You must choose the courses accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) to get the right skills and develop the research skills and have a flexible study plan.

Concentrations to be considered for the Physical Therapist

Academic concentrations: The accredited coursework adds more value to your degree as well as gaining knowledge, here the degrees offers some courses such as,

Associate’s degree for Physical therapist

The courses offered by this program to  give you the basic foundational skills to get a job of therapist are listed below,

Physical therapist assistant procedures

This course details the various clinical procedures and equipment performed by the physical therapist assistant. The primary duties include the demonstration of exercise, evaluate and record results of the patients, and collect the necessary treatment materials.

Skills acquired:

  • Evaluating the patients progress

  • Gain knowledge on the necessary equipments for treatment

  • Assist the patient to perform exercise

  • Learn the patients psychology and neurological disorders

Clinical Kinesiology

This course gives the basic understanding on the human body movements and function of the systems such as skeletal, articular, neurological, and muscular systems.

Skills acquired:

  • Test the muscle functioning

  • Measuring the joints

  • Understand the normal body movements off  patients

  • Recognise the abnormality in the patient

Therapeutics exercise

This course lays a foundation to the various types of therapeutic exercise and interpreting the type of exercise to be introduced to the  patient with specific disorder.

Skills acquired:

  • Understand the concept of  tissue repair, i.e: Mechanotherapy

  • Design exercise  for the medical conditions

  • Clinical decision making

  • Learn safe exercise techniques for all ages

  • Evaluate performance of the patients

Assistive devices

This course educates the students about  the various assistive devices developed and how they can be used.

Skills acquired:

  • Learn about  the various assistive devices

  • Recommend the right device according to the health issue

  • Instruct the patients on how the devices can be useful

Bachelor's degree in Physical therapy

The coursework provided to the students in pre-physical therapy Bachelor’s degree are,

Health science and statistics

This course gives an introduction of the statistical methodologies on the healthcare profession. It deals with the data interpretation, evaluation, understanding of the statistics used in healthcare.

  • Analyse the patients records through statistical techniques

  • Understanding the basic concepts of statistical concepts, descriptive statistics and basic concepts of statistical inference, covering univariate, bivariate, and multivariate statistical analyses. 

Athletic injuries

This course describes the treatments for different kinds of athletic injuries and their prevention, identification of injuries, analyse the cause and effect.

Skills acquired;

  • Creating and treating patients with suitable  medications

  • Practice safety exercise

  • Learn the preventive measure for the injuries

Pharmacology

This course is provided to understand the effect of meditations on the body, how the body reacts and its effects. Students also learn the different types of drugs used by the therapist, drug distribution and metabolism, and pharmacokinetics.

Skills acquired:

  • Know which drug is  suitable for the patient's condition

  • Recognizing the interaction of drug and the metabolic activities

  • Understand the physical and psychological effects of different drugs

Health psychology

This course is to understand the effects of biological, social and psychological factors on the body. Also promoting healthy lifestyle and prevention of illness.

Skills acquired:

  • Recognize the mental health of the patient

  • Effects of pain on the psychological factors of patients

  • Suggesting nutritions to reduce pain and improve the conditions

Job concentrations for a physical therapist

With a degree and certification of the physical therapist, you can choose alternative career opportunities, here are few career concentrations you could choose.

Nutritionist and dietitian

A nutritionist is a professional who is concerned with the promotion of health and mange disease though the proper nutrition intake. They regulate and plan your food menu with addition of the required nutrition to nourish your body and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This requires you to have a bachelor's degree and certification for a job. This job offers a salary ranging between $36,000 to $67,000 based on your qualification.

Athletic trainer:

Athletic trainers are experts who are certified and licensed to assist patients with sports exercise and medicine. The trainers deal with the examination,prevention, evaluation, treatment of the injuries and other health related conditions. This field is blooming with the recognition of American Medical Association (AMA), Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). You are required to have a bachelor's degree and several hours of clinical experience where you can earn up to $44,670 per year.

Recreational therapist:

A recreational therapist helps relieve stress , anxiety, and reduce depression and other problems of the patient with active participation in various creative activities such as art, sports, dance and others. This role requires a bachelor's degree with clinical experience and offers a salary of about $31,000 to $46,000 annually.

Audiologist: 

They are healthcare professionals who are specialised in treating patients with auditory disorders. They treat patients by diagnosis, managing and testing the issues related to the auditory and vestibular portions of the ear. This job requires you to have a Au.D. (Doctorate in Audiology), or a Master's or Doctoral degree. You can earn a salary ranging between $54,000 to $110,000 every year.

Occupational therapist:

They are professionals who evaluate the patient’s condition by examining the evidences , medical records of the patients to provide proper treatment. They also motivate patients to develop independent skills to carry out their daily activities. The professionals working in this field earn about $80,100 every year

Stand out skills required for a physical therapist

This is a profession with diversity and you are required to possess some exceptional skills with high academic knowledge, hence here are some skills listed for you,

Compassion: A physical therapist must connect with their patients and interact with them with compassion. As this profession is concerned with helping people,, as a pt you must have empathy toward your patients.

Attention to detail: Detailing is important in this profession, you must pay attention and be observant towards even the smallest details possible. With strong analytical and thinking skills, you must evaluate and record very details while treating patients.

Physical stamina: A physical therapist must have great stamina to work well and demonstrate proper techniques to help  their patients perform exercise to follow the preset plan. Being physically strong gives them more enthusiasm to work and treat patients.

Time management skills: Managing time plays an important role in a physical therapist profession. They must be accurate on the medication and the exercise they suggest and be competitive in their roles. They must prove care and complete administrative talks.

Accuracy: They must be accurate in analysing the health conditions of the patients, they should know the effects of the drug before recommending them before to their patients. Recollecting the details and information on the exercise and medicines for designing a better treatment plan.

Physical Therapist Salaries

Physical Therapist