Becoming a Physical Therapist

The following article provides a brief description of what it means to be a physical therapist. It also provides information and advice on how to get accepted into a physical therapy school. The article may be of interest to you if you are thinking of becoming a physical therapist. If you wish to comment on this article , please feel free to do so in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

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What does it mean to be a physical therapist / physiotherapist?

The scope of practice of a physical therapist varies greatly around the world. Physical therapists deal in areas such as wound care, geriatrics, respiratory / cardiopulmonary , orthopedics / musculoskeletal, home care, neurology, pediatrics, sports, and more. The variation in conditions treated and degrees of independence in practice vary dramatically. Even the preference for the terms physical therapy or physiotherapy, (and physical therapist or physiotherapist) differs around the world.

As noted on the APTA web site, the publisher of PT Magazine in October 1999, included an editorial that stated:

“Physical therapists are good people to know. They’re educated in understanding the interaction of all your body parts. Their hands-on approach begins with examination, diagnosis, and treatment of the immediate problem. Then they teach you how to take care of yourself by showing you how to do exercises and how to use your body properly to gain strength and mobility and prevent recurring injury. You’ll find them advising on proper posture and body motion in the workplace, treating injuries, consulting on fitness, and administering physical therapy in the home. Today physical therapists provide help for every part of the body to everyone from infants to the elderly – more than 1 million people every day!”

career in physical therapy - becoming a physical therapist
A career in Physical Therapy can be very rewarding

The Salary of a Physical Therapist

According to salary.com the median expected salary for a typical licensed Physical Therapist in the United States is $74,917.(salary.com) In North America you may see salaries varying anywhere from $55,000 to $85,000 a year, and it is becoming more common to see individuals able to command salaries in the 6 figures. In my experience the upper end of this spectrum is less often achieved by 9 to 5 therapists working only with patients. More commonly these 6 figure salaries are made by individuals involved in other activities outside of patient treatment, such as teaching or owning a clinic.

Getting Accepted Into A Physical Therapy School

There are a large number of schools offering physical therapy degrees. For a list of many of the schools, please see our Schools section. Make sure you take the time to research the schools available to you. The primary thing to ensure is that the school(s) you are considering are accredited in your country. In the United States, this accreditation can occur on either the federal or the state level

The application process for physical therapy schools is extremely varied and entrance into physical therapy programs is very competitive. The marks required to even be considered for a spot in a program can be very high. In my experience, the required marks can be higher than those required to get into a decent medical school. Every application process is different and descriptions of each of the possible aspects is beyond the scope of this article.

Tips for the Interview

Once part of the application process that should be found in all situations is the interview process. At some point in your attempts to get accepted into a physical therapy school you should have to go through this.

Many people interested in becoming a physical therapist come from a physical education background. If this is the case for you, do not focus much of your interview on this. There are a great many people with physical education backgrounds that seem to feel that physical therapy is all about treating athletes and working with sports teams. Interviewers tend not to appreciate this narrow view of the profession.

Before going in to your interview you should spend time preparing. Learn as much as you can about the profession. Learn about all the different areas and specialties. You need to be able to show that you have a true understanding of what the profession is all about. Be prepared to talk about the different types of work in the profession and try not to focus on the sports aspect.

Long before the interview you should start getting relevant experience. The experience doesn’t necessarily have to be volunteer, though some interviewers will prefer that you have volunteer experience. Go out into your community and experience the things that a therapist might experience on the job. Help out at a hospital, work with people with disabilities, lend a hand at a nursing home. Try to think of an area of physical therapy that you know the least about and go out and get some experience in it.

In the course of your interview you should try to impress upon the interviewers the fact that you have good Interpersonal skills. Interpersonal skills, or ‘people skills’, are very important to a physical therapist as will be constantly dealing one-on-one with others. The relationships a therapist has with his/her patients can be very important to the entire healing process.

During the interview, the most important thing you can do is be yourself. Be prepared, but be yourself. Interviewers can usually see right through you if you try to be who you think they want to see. If you are prepared you can relax and be yourself, knowing that you are prepared.

Physical Therapy Schools

The list of schools internationally that offer degrees in physical therapy is too large to list here. Please see our Physical Therapy Schools section for our current list of such schools.

Licensing

Once you have your degree you will need to become a licensed physical therapist / physiotherapist. You will need to register with your regional governing body, whether that be a state / provincial organization, or otherwise. You must be registered and have your permit to practice as a licensed physical therapist and to use use the title physical therapist / physiotherapist or PT. For more information see our list of physical therapy associations around the world.

Video: A Career in Physical Therapy

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