13th Jan 2010

Becoming a Physical Therapist

Those of us who have played competitive sports have likely suffered sports injuries at one point or another. I remember time spent in the training room year round as I participated in football in the fall, then wrestling in winter, then baseball and track in the spring. I appreciate the many times I received treatments from college student trainers who taped my ankles, wrapped injured ribs, massaged a sore pitching arm, and helped with rehabilitating muscle injuries. The support I received while playing high school sports came from people who were competent about what they were doing. What all is involved in becoming a physical therapist? Here’s the scoop.

Physical Therapists (or PTs) make a career out of helping people who have suffered injuries. Some, like the ones I knew while playing high school sports, focus on sports injuries. Others, like my cousin Joe, work with elderly, helping them to keep their bodies functioning as they fight against the debilitating effects of aging. There are other physical therapy specialties, including dealing with accident victims and working with patients struggling with multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, or other genetic disorders that affect physical functionality.

Unlike occupations such as nurses or doctors who work in emergency situations and often have to work awkward hours, the majority of physical therapists keep normal business working hours or at least hours that don’t spill too late into the night. Many physical therapists work at hospitals or clinics where patients come to receive treatments and go through workouts. Sports physical therapists often spend their time in weight rooms and other training facilities on campuses or sports complexes. Physical therapists who deal with geriatric patients often make house visits, especially in cases where rehabilitation exercises don’t require weight sets or machinery best suited for a clinic setup.

Most career physical therapist jobs require at least a master’s degree. Coursework includes technical classes in subjects such as anatomy, biology, chemistry, and human development. Physical therapists are also required to have some background in math-intensive subjects such as statistics and physics. Having a doctoral degree gives a physical therapist the opportunity for more flexibility and increased pay.

Besides obtaining the secondary education required to practice, physical therapists must also pass state licensing exams to be fully qualified as career physical therapists. Like other professional service jobs, physical therapists must keep up with their industry by taking continuing education classes. Continuing education classes can be selected among various specialized courses, physical therapists have a fair amount of flexibility with their on-going study pursuits.

SalaryThe median salary for physical therapists in 2009 was just over $70,000. The highest paid physical therapists make about $90,000 per year. Of course, a physical therapist can increase his income substantially by opening his own clinic or taking on clients under his own business entity.

Job Satisfaction
According to US New and World Report, physical therapy as an occupation ranked second in job satisfaction behind only clergy in 2009. Being a physical therapist offers the opportunity to control a lot about your work environment without taking on all the risk of being self-employed. The combination of a fulfilling variety of tasks, good pay, and a consistent sense of accomplishment make physical therapy a career that pays in many ways.

If you enjoy understanding and developing the human body, you can work well with people, and you can handle six years or more of secondary education, you’re a good candidate for becoming a physical therapist. You can further develop your interest by researching the physical therapy curriculum of potential schools you might attend. Hands on experience is very helpful, so you might try interviewing a professional physical therapist, or possibly spend a day shadowing one.