Become a Physical Therapist

Helping people to recover from major illnesses where their body has taken a massive blow is what a physical therapist does. PTs, as they are also called, form part of a medical doctor network often working closely with other healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists and others.

Rehabilitation after accidents and traumas, or helping a child to get more physical motion with a birth defect or disability is the main aim of a physical therapist and to become one is not as hard as you might think.

A physical therapist will need to evaluate and diagnose a patient. The patient could suffer from a chronic disease, or it might be something acute. It could be a sudden trauma or an illness that is slowly debilitating movement. The treatment might be short term or long term depending on these factors. They will then need to propose a method of treatment so that the patient can recover. There are 4 primary objectives that a physical therapist has in mind:

  • Promoting movement
  • Reducing pain
  • Restoring function
  • And preventing disability

The first thing to look at when you want to know how to become a physical therapist is your personality. Working with people every day and helping them to recover takes patience and requires you to be polite and warm with them. Some patients will get frustrated and you need to be a calming influence, but motivate them at the same time. You need to be good at communicating and educating, not only with your patients, but with their families as well.

The loss of mobility that patients suffer which leads their doctor to refer them to a physical therapist can be cause by various things including neck and back accidents, burns, amputations, sprains and strains, fractures, arthritis, strokes, MS (multiple sclerosis), spina bifida, cerebral palsy, and many other diseases that cause loss of mobility.

To become a physical therapist you need to complete a physical therapist program with an accredited school to get a post-baccalaureate degree, and pass various examinations. Master’s degrees normally take 2 to 2 and a half years and doctoral degree program takes approximately 3 years to complete where you will be called a DPT. You can find accredited schools through the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), which is the accrediting body of American Physical Therapy Association.

Various courses are covered in the program including biology, physiology, anatomy, cellular history, exercise physiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, pathology, biomechanics, radiology, and behavioral sciences. Some course can also include teaching about the diagnostic process, therapeutic interventions, medical screens, and practice management. You will work in a classroom and laboratory, but also in the field under supervision.

Before you attend these programs you should take undergraduate courses like mathematics, social science, physics, biology, and statistics, as well as anatomy and chemistry. You should also volunteer in the physical therapy department at a hospital or clinic to gain valuable experience. This along with letters of reference, the passing of a standardized graduate exam like a GRE (Graduate Record Examination), and the passing of a national licensure exam will cover your admission requirements for attending a physical therapy education program.

Once you have completed your course you will need to complete your National Physical Therapy Examination to become licensed to start working, and some states also require you to take a jurisprudence examination.

Physical therapist jobs are expected to grow dramatically over the next 7 years with a 30 percent increase in physical therapist jobs. This is largely due to the aging Baby Boomer generation who now face diseases like strokes and heart attacks, and most need physical therapists. There is also a growing demand for physical therapists in hospitals. Due to the advancement in medical technology, many trauma victims and newborn babies with birth defects survive and require intensive physical therapy.

You can expect to not only work in hospitals, but in clinics and other health care facilities including nursing homes and privately. Many sports injuries require intensive physical therapy, and for professional athletes, they are prepared to hire a physical therapist on a full time basis, where you can earn a much larger salary.

While you are working primarily in well lit, clean and comfortable locations, the nature of the work will demand physical fitness from you as well, as you will find yourself bending over patients, stretching, reaching, and demonstrating for them. You will be on your feet for most of the day. A day is generally 8 normal office hours, but you will be required to work some weekends and after hours depending on the patients you have and the schedule of the hospital or clinic where you work.

Physical Therapist Salaries

Physical Therapist Quick Facts

Job Title: Physical Therapist
Office: A physical therapist works in private offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, medical centers, and at private homes.
Description: Your job is to assess a patient and provide treatment that will help them to regain movement and functioning of their body.
Certifications/Education: A master’s or doctoral degree is required to get your license and practice.
Necessary Skills: Excellent communication, a passion for helping people, patience, the ability to educate, and a compassionate nature.
Potential Employers: Hospitals, sports teams, clinics, nursing homes, and private healthcare offices.
Pay: The annual average of $72,800 can be broken down into what each sector pays annually on average for physical therapists.

Home health care services – $77,630
Nursing care facilities – $76,680
General medical and surgical hospitals – $73,270
Offices of physicians – $72,790
Offices of other health practitioners – $71,400

Helpful Links:
American Physical Therapy Association
The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
Physical Therapy Schools

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