When it comes to career paths and the jobs we aspire to, it’s easy to feel like there are only a few options on the table. But actually, there’s a whole world of different types of jobs and roles out there, and we’re on a mission to bring them to light and explain what they actually involve. Ahead, a look at physical therapists—and over here, we’ve also got office assistants, marketing managers, and executive assistants.
If you have an inbuilt desire to help people, the job of a physical therapist might be up your alley.
A physical therapist’s role is to help people with injuries and illnesses to improve their mobility and manage their pain. Depending on the circumstances of the patient, the physical therapist (PT) might form one part of a broader healthcare team that includes the patient’s physicians and surgeons.
While the role of a physical therapist lives up to its name in that it provides a patient with physical support, there is another element. In many cases, your work will give hope to your patient.
In the words of Jessica Tranchina, co-founder of Generator Athlete Lab, “we impact people’s lives every single day. We have the ability to change people’s lives and that is not something to take lightly.”
Here’s what you need to know about being a physical therapist
Let’s find out what being a physical therapist involves.
So, what does a physical therapist actually do?
“Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings,” says Tranchina. While some PTs will work in a rehabilitation facility or a hospital, others might go where their patients are. On any given day, you might be visiting a nursing home, an outpatient clinic, a school, and a patient’s home.
With each patient, your job is to “examine, test, measure, and listen,” says Tranchina. Once you have understood their capabilities, issues, limits, and needs, you will develop a treatment plan for the patient. The treatment plans you develop will use a number of techniques—including exercises, stretching, and hands-on therapy.
In some cases, Tranchina says, you might work on preventative therapy. “We [also] work with people to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.”
Who is this job ideally for?
If you want to excel in your role as a physical therapist, “being able to connect with and motivate people is hugely important,” says Lauren Lobert of APEX Physical Therapy in Michigan.
“You are often encountering people at some of the most challenging times in their lives,” says Lobert. “Being able to educate patients, give them hope, and motivate them to be able to achieve their goals is imperative. Developing trusting relationships will improve [their] outcomes as well.”
Another aspect worth considering is how physical the job is. The job is very hands-on and when you’re working with a patient, you can expect to be on your feet for most of the time. Taking an interest in your own health and wellbeing will be of the utmost importance.
What are the usual job requirements?
To become a physical therapist, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or doctorate degree in physical therapy. This is quite a grueling undertaking that will require several years in school. You need to ensure your program is approved by the American Physical Therapy Association.
You’ll then need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) if you want to become a licensed physical therapist or licensed/certified physical therapist assistant (or to regain licensure/certification if lapsed) in the United States.
The final step is to learn about the requirements in your state. Some states require you to qualify or apply for additional licenses.
Lobert offered some additional words of wisdom: “Before applying to school, I think it’s important to understand the demands of the profession. Insurance limitations are creating huge changes in the profession and will continue to do so,” she says. “I recommend shadowing or working with physical therapists in different settings to ensure that is what you really want to do before embarking on [this] journey.”
What’s the average salary like?
Both Glassdoor and PayScale report the average salary for a physical therapist is $69K per year. Naturally, though, salary will vary by location. According to PayScale, physical therapists in Houston and Los Angeles earn approximately 9 percent more than the national average.