Physical therapists practice in hospitals, clinics, and private offices. They may also treat patients in the patient's home or at school.
Most physical therapists work a 40-hour week, which may include some evenings and weekends depending on their patients' schedules. The job can be physically demanding, because therapists often have to stoop, kneel, crouch, lift, or stand for long periods of time. In addition, physical therapists move heavy equipment, lift patients, or help them turn, stand, or walk.
In 1998, approximately 75% of the physical therapists employed in approximately 120,000 jobs worked full time. Approximately 10% of physical therapists held more than one job.
Over two-thirds of physical therapists are employed in either hospitals or physical therapists' offices. Other work settings include home health agencies, outpatient rehabilitation centers, physicians' offices and clinics, and nursing homes. Some physical therapists maintain a private practice and provide services to individual patients or contract to provide services in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, home health agencies, adult day-care programs, or schools. They may be engaged in individual practice or be part of a consulting group. Some physical therapists teach in academic institutions and conduct research.
Education and training
Before they can practice, physical therapists are required to pass a licensure exam after graduating from an accredited physical therapist educational program.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, in 1999 there were 189 accredited physical therapist programs. Of the accredited programs, 24 offered bachelor's degrees, 157 offered master's degrees, and eight offered doctoral degrees. By 2002, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education will require all physical therapist programs seeking accreditation to offer degrees at the post-baccalaureate level.
Physical therapist programs start with basic science courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics, followed by specialized courses such as biomechanics, neuroanatomy, human growth and development, manifestations of disease, examination techniques, and therapeutic procedures. Besides classroom and laboratory instruction, students receive supervised clinical experience.
Admission to physical therapist education programs is very competitive. Interested students may improve their admission potential by attaining superior grades, especially in science courses. Interested students should take courses such as anatomy, biology, chemistry, social science, mathematics, and physics. Before granting admission, many programs require that the student at least have experience as a volunteer in a hospital or clinic physical therapy department.
Physical therapists need strong interpersonal skills to successfully educate patients about their physical therapy treatments and to interact with the patient's family. Therapists should also be compassionate and posses a desire to help patients.
Physical therapists are expected to remain current in their professional development by participating in continuing education courses and workshops. A number of states require continuing education to maintain licensure.
In 1998, physical therapists earned a median annual income of $56,600. The lowest 10% earned less than $35,700 while the highest 10% earned in excess of $90,870 a year. Those in the middle 50% earned between $44,460 and $77,810 a year. In 1997, physical therapists' median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest number of physical therapists included home health care services, $65,600; nursing and personal care facilities, $60,400; health care practitioner offices, $56,600; physicians' offices and clinics, $55,100; and hospitals, $50,100.
Bill Asenjo MS, CRC, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,