How to become a physical therapist
What does a day in the life of a physical therapist look like?
It’s hard to explain exactly what a physical therapist (PT) does, as every PT works on different patients and in different locations.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapists treat people of all ages who want to improve their quality of life. They also treat people with physical injuries.
If you enjoy helping people, a career as a physical therapist could be perfect for you.
Let’s break down a day in the life of a physical therapist and look at some physical therapist positions that are hiring now.
What does a physical therapist do?
A physical therapist is a highly specialized licensed professional who can help patients restore their physical function and range of motion, diagnose physical abnormalities, create treatment plans, and promote regular physical activity.
It’s a career where you’ll work closely with your patients. You will help them improve their quality of life through specific and detailed exercises, patient care and education, and hands-on attention.
Physical therapists work with patients from all walks of life. This includes newborns, seniors, patients recovering from an injury, and even people who are just looking to stay physically fit and prevent future problems.
You’ll also find them in several healthcare settings, such as hospitals, private practices, outpatient offices, rehab centers, and nursing homes.
Physical therapists have a significant impact on the well-being of their patients. A physical therapist can sometimes remove the need for surgery and expensive prescription medications and treatments altogether.
Becoming a physical therapist is an excellent career with a positive outlook well into the future. There are over 233,350 physical therapists practicing in the U.S.
And that number will only continue to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job to grow by 18% between 2019-29, which is much faster than average.
The pay is great, too, with a median pay of $91,010 a year, or $43.75 per hour.
But that comes with a lot of schooling and the need for continuing education. Physical therapists must first get their bachelor’s degree, followed by a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, which takes around seven years total.
After that, you’ll have to be licensed, and there are some other requirements depending on your state.
But if you enjoy working directly with patients and making a visible difference in their everyday lives, this could be the career for you.
A day in the life of a physical therapist
Every physical therapist's day will look different depending on where they work and their patient load. Often, each day is unique in this position.
A PT who works in outpatient clinics will have a very different daily schedule than one who works in a sports rehab center.
However, we’ll give you a general idea of what to expect as a physical therapist.
A physical therapist will likely see their first patient at around 8 a.m. So, most PTs arrive at least half an hour early to review the patients they’ll be seeing during the day as well as pull their charts.
They will then ensure their working area is clean and prepped for the first patient. This involves gathering all of the necessary tools, equipment, and paperwork needed for the patient.
Then the first patient will arrive (hopefully on time), and the PT will greet them. They’ll direct the patient to the treatment room, where they’ll ask what brings them in today.
PTs spend a lot of time treating patients with back pain — nearly 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain, and it’s only getting worse.
An appointment could involve many things, such as:
Instructing the patient on how to perform new exercises for their Home Exercise Program (HEP) or in the office
Doing hands-on work like stretching and soft-tissue work
Describing pain-relieving techniques and providing general patient education
You can expect the average appointment to last between 45 minutes and one hour and involve a combination of the above tasks. A PT will often prepare at-home exercise programs before the appointment so that they aren’t creating them on the fly.
During the morning, a PT will have as many as five patients, depending on the time they take their lunch.
It’s important to note that a physical therapist’s schedule isn’t concrete.
It’s like anyone providing a service — a late or absent patient can throw the entire day into chaos, and the PT will have to shift things around. It’s a career requiring a lot of patience and flexibility.
Lunch and paperwork time
A physical therapist will typically take an hour-long lunch sometime during the day. You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that a PT is often working during their lunch.
A PT can work in many locations, all requiring more or less paperwork. If they don’t have a dedicated technician or aide, the physical therapist may handle some paperwork during lunch so they can get out of the office sooner.
Physical therapy requires a lot of detailed note-taking, and while a PT takes notes during an appointment, they need to be typed up. Typing up the notes from the morning’s patients during lunch means less work to do in the evening.
It’s important to note that while a physical therapist’s day can be scheduled in advance, things happen, and appointments may need to be moved around.
Also, many PTs find that taking their lunch later in the day speeds up their afternoon. But that’s ultimately up to you.
In the afternoon, the PT will continue to see patients. But they might have a patient who they’ve never seen before come in too.
Here’s what that looks like.
First, the physical therapist will sit with the new patient to learn about their medical history. They may come with a chart from their physician that can be reviewed as well. Regardless, gathering the patient’s history is crucial.
If there’s an injury or disability, the PT will then examine the area and ask questions related to it.
The PT needs as much information as possible to create a detailed and effective treatment plan for the patient. This is where their people skills come in. Making a patient feel comfortable is the best way to extract information.
With this information, a PT will create a chart. They can then review and edit the chart as the treatment progresses. This chart is vital to keeping the team up to date.
They will then create goals, both short and long-term, to measure progress and success rates. It’s important to have short-term goals, as seeing progress helps keep patients motivated.
Lastly, a PT will create a treatment plan for the patient based on the information gathered. This includes the types of treatments they will prescribe, the frequency of visits, a potential home exercise program, and more.
End of the day
After the afternoon schedule is finished, the PT will wrap up their work by reviewing the day’s patients. At this time, they will finalize any notes they still have.
The PT may also take a look at tomorrow’s schedule and do some preparation to make the morning easier.
Of course, this is just what a typical day could look like for a physical therapist at an outpatient center.
A day in the life of a physical therapist that works in another setting may look vastly different.
Physical therapy jobs hiring now
The field of physical therapy is on the rise, with the job outlook growing well beyond average.
As the aging population increases and the younger generation find themselves working at a desk for long periods of time, the role of a physical therapist becomes ever more important.
And, you’ll find PTs work in just about every setting, including hospitals, universities, sports centers, and more.
Let’s take a look at five types of physical therapist jobs that are hiring now.
1. Physical therapist
You can find hundreds of excellent physical therapist jobs, all in different locations and requiring different types of experience and education.
Some of the jobs you’ll find require advanced education, like a Ph.D., while others only require the DPT and experience. Your experience and location will determine what jobs you apply for.
There are even teaching opportunities for qualified physical therapists.
Physical therapists can also be entrepreneurs and open their own practices.
2. Physical therapy aide
Physical therapy aides are much-needed members of the team. They assist with the preparation of treatment areas and obtain the required supplies for each patient.
They also assist patients by helping move and position them for proper treatment while sometimes being assigned clerical tasks.
If you like the idea of working in physical therapy but don’t want to go through all of the schooling, this could be the gig for you.
3. Physical therapy technician
Much like the aides, a physical therapy technician plays a crucial role in fulfilling a patient’s treatment plan.
In this position, you’ll be responsible for greeting patients, registering and escorting them to their rooms, and setting up and turning over rooms before and after a patient has used them.
The technician and aide positions are sometimes interchangeable, but you should read the job descriptions to make sure you know what you’re applying for.
4. Pediatric physical therapist
A pediatric physical therapist specializes in the treatment of children and infants.
They help improve physical well-being by treating disabilities, injuries, or illnesses caused by developmental delays.
These PTs are highly specialized and require even more schooling. But working with children is rewarding. Depending on the job, you may also be treating school-age children with injuries or disabilities.
Regardless, a pediatric physical therapist is a rewarding career and a top-earner.
5. Sports physical therapist
There are many opportunities for physical therapists to work in the sports world. Athletes face many challenges and injuries.
If you pursue a career as a sports physical therapist, expect to treat athletes who’ve been injured while playing. You’ll likely treat many students and semi-professional sports players, performing functional rehab to get them back on the field.
There are also opportunities to treat professional athletes.
Land your dream job as a physical therapist
A career as a physical therapist can be highly rewarding, both personally and professionally.
You’ll have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of your patients, helping them recover from injuries and teaching them to manage disabilities. While doing that, you’ll be making a generous salary, and you can rest easy knowing your job outlook is secure.
If you enjoy working with people and don’t mind the extensive education required, this could be the job for you.
You can also visit the Getting Hired Resource Center to get more advice about landing your dream physical therapist job!
Would you consider a career in physical therapy?
Great career but so many years In school, I never knew It required so many.