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What is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is the process used to provide assistance to individuals suffering from motor problem incurred by accident, surgery, or from other sources. Therapists are responsible for tracking and updating programs based on the progress of a given patient, working closely to ensure that goals are met. Additionally, physical therapists will work with patients and families to provide education regarding treatment and how to facilitate recovery through exercises and practices in the home. Physical therapists may work in hospitals and clinics or have their own practices and facilities.Physical therapists will also work with other healthcare professionals to develop and implement treatments.
A degree in physical therapy prepares an individual with the skills and knowledge necessary to assist patients who have debilitating ailments. A physical therapist will assist by evaluating the patient and developing a plan to promote movement, remove pain and restore function to the injured area. A degree in physical therapy is usually issued at the master's and doctoral level, with pre-physical therapy programs offered at the associate and bachelor degree level. a master's program will typically take 3 years to complete. A physical therapy major will need to know various fundamental sciences along with developing communication and analytical skills, including the ability to identify and empathize with the mental state of their patients.
Courses offered in a physical therapy curriculum may include:
- Exercise Physiology
Employment, Licensure and Certification
A physical therapist must work closely with patients, and will occasionally work with physicians, occupational therapists, and other medical professionals regarding the treatment plan for a given patient. Good listening skills and pleasant demeanor will go a long way in working with patients as well. Physical therapists will identify discrepancies and difficulties in motor function and develop a plan for rehabilitating the damaged or dysfunctional area. Over the course of treatment the rate and success of rehabilitation will be evaluated, and the process modified as needed to adjust and correct any errors. Licensure is required by most states and individuals pursuing a career in physical therapy should review their state's licensing requirements as they will vary by state, often requiring graduation from an accredited program, supervised work experience, an exam, or some combination of them.
Some physical therapists may choose to pursue certification in a specialty after a number of years of experience have been gained. Certification is awarded through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). To receive certification a physical therapist must take an exam in his or her desired specialty, the successful passing of which confers the certificate.
Specialties in physical therapy include:
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
- Clinical Electrophysiology
- Women's Health
Job Growth, Salary and Related Fields
Jobs in physical therapy are expected to increase much faster than average over the next decade. This is due almost entirely due to the aging baby boomer population, which will require professional medical services, especially those of a physical therapist, as they will provide rehabilitative therapy for individuals in the range of high risk for cardiac arrest. Advancements in technology have allowed the treatment of previously deadly problems to be survivable, also increasing the need for physical therapist to assist in the rehabilitative process. Outpatient care has also been affected by technology, allowing for quicker recovery, and the use of physical therapists to assist in normalizing motion.
The average salary for a physical therapist is $73,000, with the lowest 10% earning less than $50,000. Experience and education play a large part in determining one's salary, as well as location. More densely populated areas will have a larger number of patients, resulting in more work and thus typically higher salaries.
For more information, check out our Physical Therapy Career Guide on our blog.