How to Become a Physical Therapist

Medical Specialties

Physical Therapist

What is a Physical Therapist 

A physical therapist is a health care professional who:

  • Helps people recover from injury
  • Designs programs of therapy
  • Administer physical therapy

A physical therapist is a specialist in the pain suffered through injury, illness or surgery. They will work with a patient to develop a plan of how they are going to get back to a greater standard of physical health through a range of different methods.

They will work out the best way that a body will be healed, or a way to find the most comfortable resolution for the patient. They play a crucial role in educating patients on how to make sure their body recovers to the best of its ability.

Duties of Physical Therapist

  • Diagnose and manage movement
  • Restore physical function
  • Prevent the occurrence of symptoms
  • Enhance functional ability
  • Improve quality of life
  • Help patients overcome disability
  • Develop therapy plans
  • Teaching exercise techniques
  • Using massage and stimulation techniques
  • Keeping track of records and progress

Bonuses and Benefits of Physical Therapist

Being a physical therapist is a job that has a lot of rewards when it comes to treating patients. Having the ability to get people back on their feet will give them great job satisfaction. They will see their hard work come to fruition as people get better through the treatment that they provide to them.

A lot of people hate working at a desk, or in your typical office job. Being a physical therapist allows them to constantly be on their feet as they work with their patients. The likelihood of boredom is next to none. They will develop relationships with patients and find personal reward when the improvements come. These improvements come from taking each case on its own individual merits and working out the best possible plan through critical thinking.

Unlike other medical professions that often have their downsides due to seeing patients suffer as illnesses get worse, physical therapists are there to help patients improve their quality of life and find happiness in the joy that they are bringing to others. These fantastic employment benefits are improved by a very healthy salary, as on average physical therapists earn around $85,000 a year with many making more than $120,000.

Work Environment of Physical Therapist

General Environment


Physical therapists can work in a wide range of different environments, but are most likely be seen during the day in either their own office, a hospital or at a clinic.

Office Environment


While the tracking of records and data can be important for a physical therapist, they are unlikely to be seen in an office environment as they are having a high level of patient interaction. So apart from a few hours at a desk each week, there aren’t many similarities to an office environment.



Physical therapy is required in hospitals and clinics for patients recovering from injury, surgery or illness. The hospital environment isn’t too much different from a clinic or a private practice as it will be an easy-paced environment where the hours will be during the day time.

Social Environment


The role requires and extremely high level of social interaction and it’s vital that a physical therapist can effectively communicate with the people they are trying to help. While doctors’ reports can be of great use, physical therapist obtain most of their information from the patient themselves in order to be able to remove their pain and increase their quality of life. The ability to understand people and interpret what they are trying to tell them is vital for the role.

Self-employed workers 


Physical therapy is one of the health care professions that translates easily to the world of self-employment as they are free to open their own clinic to improve people’s lives on a private basis. There are many privately owned physical therapy practices and they can be very successful. This naturally requires a lot of hard work and determination, but it is a possibility for anyone qualified in the subject.

Work Schedules of Physical Therapist

As physical therapy is not an emergency requirement, the hours are generally sociable and almost all patients are seen during the day time. Whether it is in a hospital, clinic or their own private practice, patients don’t expect to be seen 24/7 as physical therapy is seen as a long-term fix for people’s problems. Of all healthcare professionals, this is one area that doesn’t require someone to be available 24 hours a day, unlike many others in the industry.

Important Qualities of Physical Therapist


A high level of understanding

As with any role in the medical profession, physical therapists are expected to have a high level of understanding about their role and what it entails. The knowledge required not only has to be complete, but also up to date with the latest findings and techniques.

Treating a patient correctly requires confidence, and that confidence should come from knowing their job inside out to be able to provide the best possible care. Physical therapists will get many questions from their patients, and they will be expected to answer them all.


Being a physical therapist can be a challenging job as they are trying to take someone on a journey back to full health. They are dealing with people who are going through the shock of injury or surgery and they could be facing a long road to recovery. They can’t treat anyone as just another patient as everyone requires their own individual care and emotional support on their journey. Communication is key, and therapists will get a lot more out of their patient if they show humility and empathy.


When dealing with patients, a physical therapist has to be patient. Trying to understand what somebody is going through after hardship can be challenging for anyone who requires physical therapy. It can also be difficult for them to effectively communicate what they are going through.


Some patients will be able to tell them exactly what they want in a calm manner, but others may have a lack of understanding and get more frustrated with their pain. Some may listen to every word they say, where others might think that they know best. Patience is required at all times to ensure that people are getting the correct diagnosis and treatment.

A positive attitude

Having a positive attitude is crucial for anyone who is dealing with patients. While this may be a part of their day-to-day life, someone requiring treatment may be in a dark place, wondering about how they are going to recover. Patients need support and positivity from their physical therapist or they risk losing the motivation for their recovery.


Sometimes bad news has to be delivered, but being able to deliver this in a way that inspires confidence in future challenges can be vital in making sure the client stays positive and on their recovery plan.

Be able to manage expectations

There is always a temptation with anyone in the medical profession to tell people what they want to hear, and not what they need to hear. This is a temptation to be avoided at all time because a patient needs to know the truth about their recovery.


It is important to be realistic with any time frame to recovery or you risk making the patient downhearted when it takes longer than they expected. The patient needs to be made aware of what is possible, and what isn’t so that they aren’t given false hope. Balancing being a realistic while remaining optimistic is important for any physical therapist.

A caring nature

All patients want to be cared about, they want to feel as though they are not just another statistic and that the health care system values them as an individual. The can be easy to lose sight of for anyone in the industry as it is can be easy to see someone as just another patient.


It’s important for physical therapists to be caring to everyone that they see. In turn, they will get someone who is more willing to listen to instructions and take on the advice they are given.

Organizational skills

While treating patients is at the heart of what a physical therapist does and what they trained for, there are also other duties that they are required to do which require a high level of thought and organization. They will work with the scheduling of appointments, liaising with other health care professionals and working on individual recovery plans.


Being able to schedule their time is vital to a smooth working environment. Being organized will allow them to be stress free and focus on patients, ensuring that they receive the correct advice and treatment.


People deal with pain and injury in different ways. While there may be people who constantly have a smile on their face during their recovery, there will be others who won’t be so upbeat. They may have a person who was proud of their independence who now relies on their treatment. They could have someone who is embarrassed by their injury.


They could have someone who is angry at the bad luck they have received with their pain. They could have someone who is coming to terms with life-changing injuries. Whatever patient comes through the door, it’s important to remain empathetic and put themselves in their shoes and try to understand as best they can what they are going through.

Accountable for your actions

Everyone makes mistakes; it’s a part of everyday life. As a physical therapist, they may have a situation where one of two things could be tried, and the option they chose doesn’t work. In situations like this, they get a lot more respect by holding their hands up and admitting they were wrong. They have to be accountable for the decisions they make. If they are, they will gain the patient’s trust as they work through the problem to eventually find the correct solution. If they work their decisions through with the patient, it’ll be a much more rewarding experience for both parties.

High level of communication

There is rarely anything a patient hates more than poor communication. This is their illness or injury and they want to know the truth on how they are going to recover. Effective communication is vital not only with patient, but also the other health care professionals who have worked with that patient.


Just as a physical therapist wants a patient to communicate with them so they can give the best possible care, a patient wants them to effectively communicate, so they are fully aware of everything that is happening.

Similar Occupations

Here are some of the occupations that are most transferable with the skills and qualities required of a physical therapist.

  • Massage therapy
  • Occupational therapists
  • Kinesiologist
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • Respiratory therapy

Projected Future of a Physical Therapist

Career Prospects

As long as there are people, there will be people getting injured and physical therapists will always be in demand. As with any medical profession, it’s an industry that is only going to increase due to an ever-increasing population and that population’s average age getting older. Physical therapists will play a vital role in helping people staying mobile for longer.

Job Outlook

As with any job with advanced qualifications, there will always be plenty of competition for any job role. Due to the need for physical therapists, there will always be a high amount of jobs being posted so there will never be a shortage of opportunities. The opportunity for self-employment in this role is very high as well, so there is always the option to pursue a career in being their own boss and working for themselves.

         Potential Increase

Demand for the role will always be high, and there are plenty of opportunities to expand knowledge and specialize in specific areas of the body. In this respect, a physical therapist can find their own niche in one of the many areas of the body that require physical care. Once qualified, there is also the opportunity to diversify into other areas of physical care.

Career Options

The expected growth in the next 10 years for physical therapists is expected to be around 25% which far exceeds the average for all other occupations. That kind of increase will always mean there are many opportunities out there for physical therapists whether that is in similar occupations, becoming a specialist or being self-employed. The advancement opportunities are vast.

How to Become a Physical Therapist

1. Complete a bachelor's degree

Before you are able to enroll in a graduate program for a future as a physical therapist, you most likely would have to complete a degree in a health-related field that can be applied to the world of physiotherapy. When looking into which subjects would most likely fit into your future role, those which are looked on more favorably are anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry or physics. Once you have your bachelor’s degree, then you will be able to study for your advanced degree.

2. Complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree

This may seem obvious, but you won’t be able to become a physical therapist without completing a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. There are many courses available and they usually last for a total of three years. To complete the degree, you would have to complete a clinical internship in an area related to the subject. The course involves a high standard of learning in many subjects, including applied physical therapy, life-span development, pharmacotherapy, functional anatomy and complex conditions.

3. Obtain a licensse

Once you have your degree, you will require a license before you are able to become a physical therapist. Each state sets its own requirements, but they all include passing a test which is called the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is a computerized multiple-choice exam.

If you fail, you are able to take the exam three times within a 12- month period. It is important to check the licensing requirements for an individual area as there may be extra tasks that have to be undertaken before a license is given.

4. Take a residency

Once you have been granted your license you are free to practice physical therapy and start your career. There are things you can do however to increase your level of understanding and become more employable in the process. One such idea would be to complete a residency. This will give increased experience and training in more specialist areas. After this you can take a further step by completing a fellowship.

5. Obtain board certification

The ultimate step on a journey to being the best physical therapist possible would be to obtain certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy. This will make you a specialist in one of the eight clinical specialties that are on offer. To do this takes a lot of hard work as over 2,000 hours of clinical work is required, and also to be able to pass an exam.

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