Physical therapists held about 198,600 jobs in 2010. Physical therapists, sometimes referred to as PTs, help people who have injuries or illnesses improve their movement and manage their pain. Physical therapists work as part of a healthcare team, overseeing the work of physical therapist assistants and aides and consulting with physicians and surgeons and other specialists. Physical therapists also work at preventing loss of mobility by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs to encourage healthier and more active lifestyles. They are often an important part of rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries. Physical Therapist work in a variety of settings, require education and the job outlook for a physical therapist is very promising. Physical therapists typically work in private offices and clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes. They spend much of their time on their feet, being active.
Physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from back and neck injuries; sprains, strains, and fractures; arthritis; amputations; stroke; birth conditions, such as cerebral palsy; injuries related to work and sports; and other conditions. They diagnose patients’ dysfunctional movements by watching them stand or walk and by listening to their concerns, among other methods. They set up a plan for their patients, outlining the patient’s goals and the planned treatments. They use exercises, stretching maneuvers, hands-on therapy, and equipment to ease patients’ pain and to help them increase their ability to move. They evaluate a patient’s progress, modifying a treatment plan and trying new treatments as needed. They educate patients and their families about what to expect during recovery from injury and illness and how best to cope with what happens.
Some physical therapists are self-employed, meaning that they own or are partners in owning their practice, however they still require education. Physical therapists are required to have a postgraduate professional degree. Physical therapy programs usually award a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, although a small number award a Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) degree. Doctoral programs typically last 3 years; MPT programs require 2 to 3 years of study. Most programs, either DPT or MPT, require a bachelor’s degree for admission, and many require specific prerequisites, such as anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry. Physical therapy programs often include courses in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and pharmacology. Physical therapy students also complete clinical rotations, enabling them to gain supervised work experience in areas such as acute care and orthopedic care. Physical therapists may apply to and complete residency programs after graduation. Residencies last 9 months to 3 years and provide additional training and experience in advanced or specialty areas of care.
Although the education is lengthy the job outlook is very promising. The median annual wage of physical therapists was $76,310 in May 2010. The median annual wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,620, and the top 10 percent earned more than $107,920. Physical therapists who own their own practice or who are partners in owning their practice must provide their own benefits and those of their employees. Most physical therapists work full time. About 29 percent worked part time in 2010. Employment of physical therapists is expected to increase 39 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for physical therapy services will come, in large part, from the aging baby boomers, which are staying active later in life than previous generations did.
Older persons are more likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries that require physical therapy for rehabilitation. Advances in medical technology have increased the use of outpatient surgery to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. Physical therapists will continue to play an important role in helping these patients recover more quickly from surgery. Medical and technological developments also are expected to permit a greater percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care. In addition, the incidence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, has increased in recent years, and more physical therapists will be needed to help patients manage the effects of these diseases.
Physical therapists are often drawn to the profession in part by a desire to help people. Like other healthcare providers, physical therapists should have strong analytic and observational skills to diagnose a patient’s problem, evaluate treatments, and provide safe, effective care. Physical therapists should be comfortable using their hands to provide manual therapy and therapeutic exercises. They must be able to explain treatment programs, educate their patients, and listen to the patients’ concerns to provide effective therapy. Physical therapists spend much of their time on their feet, moving as they work with their patients.
All states require physical therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state but typically include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination or a similar state-administered exam. A number of states require continuing education for physical therapists to keep their license. After gaining work experience, some physical therapists choose to become board certified in a particular clinical specialty, such as pediatrics or sports physical therapy. Board certification requires passing an exam. Since I possess qualities of compassion, detail orientation, dexterity, interpersonal skills, and physical stamina the physical therapist profession is right for me.
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