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Finding the most fitting calling in life often takes a while for people, and many will still end up wondering if they’ve taken the right path. For some, the career choice is obvious from the very beginning, while others tend to try out different things before finding their true calling in life.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the fine art of injury and illness prevention, rehabilitation from the angle of physical therapist jobs. Apart from discussing these healthcare professionals’ main role, we will also give you all the essential info you need to know about the work environment, schedules, salaries, as well as advancement options and job outlook.
About Physical Therapist Jobs
What Do Physical Therapists Do?
Physical therapists aim to help ill or injured people improve mobility and movement, and provide assistance with pain management. Their work is often a crucial element in preventive care, it plays a major role in the rehabilitation process and in providing ongoing treatment for people with chronic injuries, illnesses, or conditions.
Often referred to as PTs, these experts care for people with different functional problems caused by injuries to the neck and the back (such as fractures, strains, or sprains), amputations, neurological disorders (cerebral palsy or stroke), work- and sports-related injuries, and conditions like arthritis.
People working in physical therapy jobs may use a multitude of different techniques and methods to help their patients. These methods are generally based on exercises and include functional movement training, for example, which often requires different types of aids and equipment (crutches, canes, walkers, wheelchairs, etc.).
Physical Therapist Duties
On any given day, physical therapists will perform several different tasks.
- They will diagnose their patients’ movements and functions by carefully observing the way they walk and stand, and by speaking with them about their health issues and concerns.
- Beforehand, they will usually get acquainted with their patients’ referrals, notes from other doctors, surgeons, etc. Also, they will check the patients’ medical history.
- They will develop unique therapy plans for each of their patients by assessing the given state and recovery goals.
- They will implement stretching maneuvers, exercises, therapy, and different equipment to help patients manage their pain, increase their movement, and prevent possibilities of further injury.
- Physical therapist job duties also involve progress evaluation, and the modification of care plans and new treatment methods if necessary.
- Another important task is educating patients regarding the outcome and the aftermath of their recovery process, but also manners of coping with arising complications and inconveniences throughout the recovery program.
Types of Physical Therapy Jobs
The type of jobs these professionals have will typically depend on the type of issues their patients have. For example, experts working with people who need to recover their mobility following conditions such as a stroke will turn to different care plans from those therapists who are helping patients overcome complications caused by sports injuries.
A considerable number of physical therapists specialize in a particular type of care, like geriatrics. Moreover, many therapists help people keep their mobility and improve it by offering them individualized wellness and fitness programs.
Lastly, a physical therapist job description will also mention working in teams and therefore imply tasks like supervising aides’ and assistants’ duties, or having regular consultations with other specialists, such as surgeons and other physicians.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of around 258,200 physical therapist jobs were held back in 2019. The majority of those professionals (33%) worked in audiologists’, occupational, physical, and speech therapists’ offices. Furthermore, 26% were in private, local, or state hospitals, while 11% of them provided home healthcare services. Finally, 8% were self-employed professionals, and 6% held jobs in residential and nursing care facilities.
A typical physical therapist job will require workers to spend most of their time on their feet, assisting their patients. They are also known to be at a higher risk of experiencing back injuries and similar problems because they often have to lift their patients or help them move. However, they can significantly reduce the risk of these associated issues by using correct lifting techniques and good body mechanics during physical strain.
Injuries and Illnesses
As stated above already, the best physical therapist jobs will have experts helping patients overcome and recover from a wide variety of different conditions, illnesses, and injuries that impair mobility in any way.
They facilitate their patients’ process of recovery from orthopedic problems such as back and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, different joint and knee conditions, arthritis, tennis elbow, repetitive strain injuries, and various shoulder conditions.
Therapists will also provide recovery plans for patients who suffer from different neurological complications and problems. These can include concussions, cerebral palsy, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis.
Lastly, they also help people recover from and fight the effects of various autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other conditions that can decrease mobility and impair movement.
In most cases, physical therapist employers will demand a full-time commitment. However, part-time options have also become pretty common. Therapists will usually work during regular business hours, but depending on a given job setting, they can also work during weekends or evenings.
How to Become a Physical Therapist
Those who are looking for physical therapist job openings should know that all these professionals will need a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) degree. Also, every state in the US will require these therapists to be licensed experts.
Apart from the necessary expertise in the respective field, a good physical therapist should also have the following skills:
- Excellent communication skills: They should always explain the treatment programs precisely. Furthermore, they have to listen to the concerns of their patients and motivate them in order to help make their therapy more effective.
- Compassion: Full-time physical therapist jobs involve a lot of interaction with people, therefore professionals should have a deep desire to help their patients. They should also be highly empathetic since the patients they’re working with are most likely in pain.
- An eye for detail: They should also have well-developed observational and analytical skills to precisely diagnose problems, to evaluate their severity, and to implement the best and the safest course of action.
- Dexterity: Manual therapy and other manual exercises require a high level of dexterity. Physical therapists should also feel comfortable while assisting their patients.
- Stamina and strength: Those who opt for physical therapy jobs will spend most of their time on their feet, helping their patients and demonstrating proper movements and exercises. Also, as they should often assist and lift their patients, they should be in overall good shape and enjoy being physically active.
- Being resourceful: They should know the best ways to individualize programs and plans for treatments. Also, they need to be flexible when it comes to meeting their patients’ needs.
- Managing time efficiently: As these experts will probably treat several patients throughout the day, they must also find the time to perform other administrative tasks as well (documenting therapy progress, for example).
As stated already, therapists need a DPT degree from a CAPTE-accredited program (Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education). Also, those who are looking for the best physical therapist career opportunities should know that DPT programs will most often last three years, and some of them will imply additional courses as a prerequisite (like physics, biology, anatomy) apart from a bachelor’s degree.
Following graduation, PTs can apply to clinical residency programs. These will most often last for a year and will serve as additional training. After this, professionals will also have the opportunity to specialize further.
Licenses Certifications, and Registrations
No physical therapist job prospects can be expected if an individual isn’t licensed to get work. This includes successfully passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy).
In some states, a criminal background check and a law exam will have to be done as well. Furthermore, it’s often required from PTs to continue their education in order to keep their license.
Some PTs choose to become board-certified experts in specialty areas like geriatrics, sports, and orthopedics. To get this certification, therapists must pass an exam and gain experience in the specialty field by completing clinical work.
Some experts may wish to improve their skills, specialize even further in a given area, or achieve their goal of meeting managerial-position requirements. Fortunately, there are several physical therapist job advancements they can pursue, and some of them are listed below.
Certified hand therapist – These experts focus on rehabilitating the hand, shoulder area, and the wrist, and must provide effective treatments to improve hand function.
Physical therapy manager – Not only do such professionals work with patients but they also focus on the business aspect of a PT practice. They supervise therapists’ clinical work and are responsible for hiring and training new employees.
Rehabilitation services director – When basic physical therapist employment isn’t enough, PTs can also focus on becoming rehabilitation services directors. These professionals create different treatment options and plans for a wider range of therapies, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy, along with counseling. They also oversee therapists and give out clearances.
Orthopedic surgeon – Specialists who diagnose musculoskeletal conditions and improve the outlook of said conditions through surgery. They also monitor recovery post-surgery.
When looking at the typical physical therapist salary, the median annual wage was around $89,440 in May last year. The lowest 10 percent in this occupation earned under $62,120, while the top 10% managed to take home a median salary of at least $124,740.
Also, in the same period, median annual salaries for PTs were the highest for those who worked in nursing and residential care facilities ($95,450). Second in line were those working in home healthcare services with $94,080, while the third category were those professionals working in state, local, or private hospitals ($91,260). The fourth category—those who worked in other offices—earned a median annual salary of $85,130.
Those looking for physical therapist job opportunities should know the employment rate for this profession is forecasted to grow by 18% throughout the 2019–2029 period.
The demand for PTs will grow partly because of the huge number of baby boomers who are aging yet trying to remain more active than previous generations. As such, they’re more prone to mobility-related injuries that may require professional assistance. Apart from that, chronic problems, such as obesity and diabetes have become more prevalent, and more therapists are needed to help patients manage the effects of these conditions and to improve their mobility.
Lastly, the job outlook for physical therapist positions will improve as medical technology and science become more advanced. Several advancements and developments made it possible to survive otherwise lethal accidents, and also permitted the survival of newborns with different birth defects. These patients will also need rehabilitative care to improve their mobility and their overall quality of life.
Around 15,200 jobs will open each year for PTs over the decade, mostly because some experts will exit the labor force (because of retirement), while others move to different areas of expertise. Those who don’t get a PT position right away might be able to land great physical therapist assistant jobs and advance from there.
Applicants should know that they might find more favorable openings in rural areas where these healthcare services are less common. Again, if they don’t manage to get a top position at first, they will still be most probably qualified for physical therapy aide jobs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What jobs can a physical therapist do?
Physical therapists work with injured or ill people who have impaired movement and mobility, and help them with pain management. However, if they wish to advance in their respective field, they can also become physical therapy managers to supervise both the business- and client-side of the occupation. They can also become rehabilitation services directors to supervise and manage a wide variety of different care programs and plans. They can also become hand specialists and orthopedic surgeons.
How much does a physical therapist get paid?
While the exact amount of money a physical therapist gets paid will depend on a lot of different factors, the median annual salary for people working in this field was around $89,440 in May of 2019. On the lower end of the payment list, professionals earned less than $62,120 a year, while the upper 10% of professionals earned around $124,740 a year.
How much does a physical therapist make in 2020?
According to the available data, the median annual salary for physical therapists was $89,349 in August 2020. Please bear in mind that salary figures depend on a variety of factors, like specialty area, industry, location, etc.
Is physical therapist a good career?
Taking everything into consideration, those who wish to pursue a career as a physical therapist can have several great opportunities in the field. PT salaries can be worth the student debt if you take every crucial factor into consideration that may affect your paycheck figures.
One the other hand, with quite a few advancement options, physical therapists can further improve their skills and gain more knowledge by pursuing specialized occupations and managerial roles as well. For instance, orthopedic surgeons make a lot more money a year than PTs do, even though it’s just one of the advancement routes a therapist can take.
Hopefully, this article has helped you answer your questions regarding physical therapist jobs. We aimed to give you every piece of information that’s closely connected to the area, along with crucial info about the average salary, career and job outlook, advancement options, work schedules, and a general overview of a physical therapist’s tasks and duties.