Physical therapists work to rehabilitate individuals who suffer from physically disabling conditions caused by accidents, injuries, or illness.  Physical therapists are highly trained and officially licensed professionals who play an important preventive and reactionary role in the healthcare system.  Often working out of specially-equipped, state-of-the-art facilities, physical therapists employ a range of techniques and treatments to improve mobility, reduce pain, and preemptively treat potential disabilities caused by aging or illness.  Some physical therapists are specialized, particularly those in larger healthcare facilities.   They may work exclusively with a specific type of injury or a specific part of the body.

Physical Therapy Career Opportunities

Related Careers: PHYSICAL THERAPISTS

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapists held over 180,000 jobs in 2008.  The BLS expects career prospects for physical therapists to be excellent from 2008 to 2018, with a predicted occupational growth rate of 30%, compared to the predicted 8.2% expansion of the general civilian economy.  That 30% will mean over 56,000 new positions for physical therapists over that time period.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Occupational Information Net (O*NET), a project of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, expects that there will be a total of 78,600 positions available to licensed and qualified physical therapists from 2008 to 2018; that figure includes the 56,000 new positions the BLS predicts AND job openings due to retirement, early termination, etc.

The BLS reports that opportunities will be best in rural areas, as physical therapists are much more common in the cities, and for those therapists that work with the elderly.  All physical therapists are licensed, but those with the strongest experiential and educational backgrounds may have the best job and salary opportunities.

Physical Therapist Earnings

Physical therapists made a median of $72,790 in 2008; the middle 50% of the field made between $60,300 and $85,540.  The top 10% made more than $104,350, while the bottom 10% made less than $50,350.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physical Therapy Educational Benefits

All states in the U.S. require physical therapists to be licensed and extensively trained.  To qualify for national and state licensing examinations, physical therapists must have either a Master’s or Doctorate of Physical Therapy.  Master’s programs in physical therapy generally take 2 to 2½ years, while the more common doctoral degrees generally last 3 years.

Prerequisites to physical therapy graduate programs vary from school to school, but candidates with strong GPAs in undergraduate science fields like anatomy and biology will be good candidates.

Students in physical therapy programs will learn the foundation and practice of physical therapy in classroom, laboratory, and supervised clinical setting.  Practical training is hands-on and rigorous.  Common coursework includes foundational science courses, clinical reasoning and evidence-based practice, and specialized techniques.

Physical Therapy Programs Online

Degrees Possible: Master’s and Doctoral (D.P.T.) Degrees

You cannot BECOME a physical therapist through online education.  There are, however, a wide range of master’s and transitional doctoral programs, along with other certifications, offered online to practicing physical therapists, and sometimes to other highly-trained clinical health professionals whose practices include elements of physical therapy.

These programs cannot qualify you for physical therapy positions (because you must be already qualified to take them), but they can be valuable career enhancements; they can help to ensure top job prospects and earnings potential.

As with any serious educational decision, do your research when picking an online master’s or doctoral physical therapy program.

Physical Therapy Skills and Abilities

Physical therapists work extensively with the patients and clients they treat, so good interpersonal and communication skills are helpful.  Therapists must plan and supervise rehabilitation programs for many different clients at a time, so they should be good organizers and multi-taskers.

There is a tremendous amount of scientific and medical training and knowledge needed by physical therapists; hence the mandatory education and licensing.  A strong science and math background will help the prospective physical therapist in their studies.

Physical T herapy Qualification and Advancement

As noted earlier, completion of a master’s or doctoral degree in physical therapy is now a prerequisite for entry-level jobs as PHYSICAL THERAPISTS.  Completion of additional educational degrees can qualify practicing physical therapists for supervisorial positions.

Additional Information

The American Physical Therapy Association, or APTA, maintains a website at http://www.apta.org.