The Role of a Physical Therapist
Physical therapists, sometimes referred to as PTs, help people who have injuries or illnesses improve their movement and manage their pain. They are often an important part of rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries.
Demand: PTs provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from sprains, strains, and injuries from cranes (the equipment or the bird). They work with aging baby boomers who are staying active and older persons who are not (heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries), and others with birth conditions.
Developments: 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. PTs are trained to use a variety of different techniques—sometimes called modalities—to care for their patients. These techniques include applying heat and cold, hands-on stimulation or massage, and using assistive and adaptive devices and equipment.
Diseases: The work of PTs varies with the type of patients they serve. For example, a patient suffering from loss of mobility due to Parkinson’s disease needs different care than an athlete recovering from an injury. The incidence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, has increased in recent years, requiring more physical therapists to help patients manage the effects of these diseases.
Da-Technology: Advances in medical technology have increased the use of outpatient surgery to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. PTs will continue to play an important role in helping these patients recover more quickly from surgery. Technology will aid, rather than replace workers in this field. Soldiers are receiving C-Legs or C-Arms with an imbedded chip allowing them to recover with the most natural feel.
What is the Job Outlook for Physical Therapists?
The Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great resource to learn about careers. It is constantly among the fastest growing careers and is projected to grow 28 percent through 2026. The median annual wage for physical therapists was $86,850 in May 2017, which has risen $10,000 in less than five years.
While 58 percent work in private hospitals or offices, 17 percent work in home health care and residential care facilities, 7 percent are self-employed.
Most PTs work full time (29 percent are part time). PTs spend much of their time on their feet, being active. Job prospects should be especially favorable in rural areas because many PTs live in highly populated urban and suburban areas.
How to Become a Physical Therapist
Some careers don’t require specific undergraduate education. However, in the medical world, a criminal justice major cannot find a job as a physical therapist. You’d have to change majors and be very specific when looking for colleges that prepare you to become a physical therapist.
While in high school, your curriculum should include: Physics (mechanics, force, joints), Anatomy & Physiology (duh?), Chemistry, Statistics (to interpret research), Psychology (to understand people), Biology (something about the study of life), and English Composition (you need clear written and verbal communication).
As an undergraduate student, there are hundreds of colleges but your program options are limited to Athletic Trainer, Kinesiology and Exercise Science and Pre-Physical Therapy.
Professional physical therapy programs no longer offer masters degrees, so you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and pass a state licensure exam to work in the field.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, there were 209 accredited physical therapist education programs in 2007. Of the accredited programs, 43 offered master's degrees and 166 offered doctoral degrees. In the future, a doctoral degree might be the required entry-level degree.
One Student’s Journey to Becoming a Physical Therapist
I sat down with Stan to learn more about how he became a physical therapist. He was like most high school students – unsure what pathway he wanted to pursue. He loved English and Biology, but hated math. As a student-athlete, he played on the offensive line in football and wrestled and mulled over the possibility of becoming an athletic trainer.
He enrolled at the University of North Texas where he earned his bachelor of science in criminal justice However, he took a freshman anatomy & physiology course that piqued his interest. After graduating, he went back to earn his masters (MPT) while working as a PT Tech (who mainly observes and assists, but does not diagnose or counsel).
He has worked at two hospitals as a PT and recently earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy! In the hospital, he works with the general population or with recovering ICU patients. He loves seeing results and seeing patients achieve their goals. Depending on their plan, he may see patients once or multiple times.
No job is without its challenges. As a physical therapist, you are constantly working with people who are in pain or are sick and you’re always on your feet. You’ll have to lift people, speak clearly, listen intently, and be patient. Stan said PTs have to manage other people’s schedules, agendas & goals while working with an Interdisciplinary Team (usually 6 people per patient).
With so many refusing treatments, he has to explain why therapy is important and he said it reminds him of the movie “50 First Dates.”
But in the end, he reminds himself that it’s not about him – it is not about advancement or agendas, it’s about the patient.
If you want to become a physical therapist like Stan, you’ll need to have the following characteristics:
Finally, Stan shared a few misconceptions. People think they are walking techs – he is actually a doctor. PTs are not human cranes, they are “helpers” not “doers.” They do not manipulate bones like a chiropractor. Chiropractors want to fix problems by popping your back (temporary solution) so they can have lifelong clients. PTs are looking for the root cause and want you to get back on your feet.
Through student ministry and educational consulting (career and college planning), I have enjoyed guiding teenagers to discover their higher calling.