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Physical Therapist Job Description, Career as a Physical Therapist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Advanced degree

Salary: $52,000 - $75,000 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Physical therapists help patients suffering from injury or disease to restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities. In addition, they promote patients' overall fitness and health. Physical therapists work with health-care teams that include physicians, occupational therapists, and psychologists. They are employed by hospitals, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers.

Physical therapists test each patient and design individual programs of treatment. They may use massage to improve muscle condition; apply ice to reduce swelling or heat to relieve pain; and utilize therapeutic equipment, such as whirlpool baths, ultrasonic machines, and ultraviolet and infrared lamps. They teach patients how to do exercises with such equipment as pulleys and weights, stationary bicycles, and parallel bars. They also teach patients and their families how to use and care for wheelchairs, braces, canes and crutches, and artificial limbs.

A physical therapist monitors the progress of a patient on a treadmill. (© Wolfgang Flamisch/zefa/Corbis.)

Physical therapists often supervise and instruct aides and assistants who help carry out programs of treatment. Therapists also keep records and write reports on the progress of each patient.

Education and Training Requirements

Accredited physical therapy programs offer both master's degrees or doctorates in physical therapy. Applicants need bachelor's degrees that include prerequisite courses, which are set by each graduate program. To be licensed, graduates of accredited programs must pass state examinations. Many states require continuing education to remain licensed in the field.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to hospitals and rehabilitation centers. College placement offices, the American Physical Therapy Association, professional journals, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet are all sources of employment openings. High school or college students can gain useful experience through volunteer or part-time work in physical therapy departments of hospitals.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Experienced therapists can become supervisors of hospital departments. With additional education, they may teach physical therapy.

Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014, largely because the population is growing older and likely to need rehabilitation and long-term care. Advances in therapeutic techniques, especially for trauma victims and newborns with birth defects, should create additional demand for rehabilitative care.

Although many people are training to become physical therapists, the supply of these workers is expected to fall short of demand. However, employment growth may be restricted by controls on health-care costs.

Working Conditions

Physical therapists usually work in clean, pleasant, and spacious areas. Some therapists treat patients who are confined to hospital beds or their homes. Because they treat patients who may be depressed by their disabilities, physical therapists should be patient and encouraging. They need to be in good health and should be able to work well with their hands.

Most physical therapists work forty hours per week. Those who prefer flexible hours can usually find part-time or consulting work.

Where to Go for More Information

American Physical Therapy Association
1111 N. Fairfax St.
Alexandria, VA 22314-1488
(800) 999-2782

The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
509 Wythe St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 229-3100

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary with education, experience, and place of employment. In 2004 the median salary of physical therapists was $60,180 per year. Benefits for salaried physical therapists included paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans. Self-employed therapists had to provide their own benefits.

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