Physical therapists have a challenging job but one that's potentially deeply rewarding — they have an ability to make an incredibly positive difference in the lives of their patients. PTs, as they're sometimes called, help people who are injured or in chronic pain manage their recoveries and improve their mobility. That might involve something as simple as helping an arthritis patient perform stretches, or as complex as helping a paraplegic patient learn to walk again after a car accident.
How to Become a Physical Therapist
Because being a physical therapist requires such extensive knowledge of the human body, the job also requires a great deal of education and training. Anyone aspiring to a career in physical therapy must start by following these steps:
- Earn a degree in physical therapy or kinesiology
- Pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree
- Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
- Get licensed by any state where you wish to practice
It's also crucial to renew your license as often as necessary. Those looking to advance their careers can also consider a board certification in a clinical specialty such as geriatrics or sports.
Largely due to the aging population in the U.S., career opportunities for physical therapists are expected to be particularly strong in the coming years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. The BLS predicts job growth of 25 percent nationally through 2026, which is much higher than the national average of 7 percent. Certain states are expected to have even higher growth than that, with Colorado, Kentucky and Tennessee all expecting more than 45 percent growth through 2024, according to state labor department data.
Where Do Physical Therapists Work?
Although many physical therapists work in hospitals, those are far from the only employment option. According to the BLS, other common possibilities include:
- Health practitioners' offices (this might include chiropractors or private practice, among other options)
- Home health care services
- Nursing care facilities
- Doctors' offices
If this growing and sustainable career interests you, check out the visual below for more details on how to become a physical therapist. A complete list of sources is included at the end.
Physical Therapist Salary and Career Outlook
Physical therapy can be both a personally fulfilling and a financially rewarding career. Here's an idea of what you might expect to make as a physical therapist, and expected job growth in the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
A growing elderly population and medical advancements that improve life expectancy should contribute to this growth. Prospects should be best, however, for those who acquire the right training, which is why it' so important to choose the right physical therapist program for you, online or otherwise.
- Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016: Physical Therapists, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm
- Physical Therapists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-1
- Long-Term Occupational Projections: Physical Therapists, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm