Physical Therapy Career Paths
There are more than 210,000 Physical Therapists (PTs) practicing in the United States today, but by no means do they all have the same job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, PT jobs are expected to grow by more than 34% over the next decade. Let’s review the typical skills and practice settings for Physical Therapists and see if a career as a PT is the right fit for you.
Typical Skills for a PT
- A PT will spend a good portion of their baccalaureate education learning about all of the systems of the body and how they all work together. A PT has to be able to assess how physical therapy treatments can help a patient regain movements, strength, and manage chronic pain.
- PTs will perform a series of tests to determine range of motion, reactions to sensory inputs, neuromotor skills, and reflexes.
- PTs are required to use clinical reasoning in developing the best care plan for their patient.
- In addition to performing manual therapies, manipulations, and tissue massage, a PT will also advise on the use of orthotics, prosthetics, wheelchairs, and other supportive motion devices.
- Personal and professional skills are also an important component of being a good PT, including compassion, integrity, and accountability.
- Business skills are another factor involved in physical therapy to handle matters such as billing, coding treatments, maintaining medical records, and supervising support staff.
Where do PTs Practice
If you were to assume that the majority of Physical Therapists practice their craft in a hospital setting, you would be incorrect. In reality, only 20% of PTs work in a hospital. With that in mind, let’s look at other PT practice settings.
- Schools. Every school system requires the services of a skilled physical therapist on staff to work with the special education students and others with specific needs.
- Rehabilitation and Sub-Acute Rehabilitation. The difference between these two settings is in the level of intensity of therapy needed for a patient to regain their independence. Patients are typically referred to these settings after suffering a debilitating condition or accident.
- Extended Care, Skilled Nursing Facility. As the American population continues to age, these types of facilities are growing rapidly. PTs in these settings typically help elderly patients regain independence, improve mobility, or treat chronic conditions.
- Outpatient or Private Practice. When PTs want to open their own office, this is the setting. Patients are referred to these clinics or practices to address musculoskeletal and neuromuscular impairments.
- Hospice. Physical therapists in a Hospice setting are providing care to patients who are in the last phases of an incurable disease with a goal of managing pain and prolonging functional ability.
- Home Health Care. Another growing PT trend is home health. Here PTs will provide services in the patient home or caregiver’s home. Home health patients typically involve elderly or special needs patients who have difficulty traveling.
- Sports and Fitness Facilities. PTs who practice in this setting are mainly focused on preventing injury and also recovery from sports-related injury. Their practice will have a focus on wellness and promoting healthier lifestyles.
Certifications and Specialties
As with most healthcare-related fields, there are continuing education opportunities for physical therapists. Many PTs choose to pursue a board-certified specialty through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. Board-certification can be earned in Cardiovascular and Pulmonary, Geriatrics, Neurology, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, Sports PT, Women’s Health, and Clinical Electrophysiology.
Do you have any thoughts or advice to share with others who are just getting into or considering a career in Physical Therapy? Are you considering a change in practice settings or pursuing board-certification? Tell us your story in the comment section below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.