What does it take to become a physical therapist?

Since they create specialized treatment plans for all forms of injuries and medical conditions, a physical therapist requires a lot of training and education before they can practice.

A physical therapist (PT) works with patients who have sustained an injury to help them recover with exercises and stretches that are therapeutic and help them build back their strength. PTs also support patients with certain medical conditions to improve their quality of life.

During treatment, physical therapists also monitor their patients’ progress, checking for improvements in range of motion. They may recommend a change in treatment if patients aren’t improving as quickly as they’d like.

Since they create specialized treatment plans for all forms of injuries and medical conditions, a physical therapist requires a lot of training and education before they can practice. Completing your training and continuing education at a reputable university is a good way to start down the right path toward becoming a skilled, licensed physical therapist.

What educational background do I need to become a physical therapist?

If you want to become a physical therapist, you’ll need around eight years of education after high school.

You’ll first start with your undergraduate program (Bachelor’s degree). Some schools may offer a physical therapy degree, but you can choose anything that’s health-related like anatomy, kinesiology, or exercise science. These programs will give you the foundational experience you need in important subjects such as biology, neuroscience, anatomy and physiology, and psychology.

During your undergrad program, you’ll need to log some shadowing or volunteer hours, where you spend time working with physical therapists in a variety of settings. The amount of hours may vary based on which graduate degree program you want to apply for, so always verify that with your admissions counselor.

Once you’ve completed your undergrad degree, you’ll move on to a Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. This stage will take around three years to complete, and you’ll spend most of your time in classes and participating in hands-on clinical education. Around 80% of your time is in classes, and 20% is for clinical education, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.

Make sure to choose a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, otherwise you’ll find it tough to qualify for your physical therapy license exam. After graduating, you may want to look into a residency or fellowship program for further training.

How do I get my physical therapy license?

No matter what state you’re in, there is some kind of licensing requirement to be able to practice physical therapy. Each state’s requirements – and examination costs – vary, so you’ll have to reach out to your state to find out what is specifically required.

Everyone who wants to practice as a physical therapist has to take the National Physical Therapy Examination. You do have to be approved by your state as well as the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy to sit for the exam. Once you pass, you’re able to start the licensing process.

You will have to renew your license every so often, and again, that varies by state. For example, in the state of Florida, physical therapists must renew their license every two years. That renewal is contingent upon you completing a certain amount of continuing education hours.

What experience is needed to become a physical therapist?

While the knowledge you’ll acquire in your undergraduate and doctoral programs is vital, you’ll also need certain soft skills to be successful as a physical therapist. These soft skills include:

  • Communication
  • Compassion
  • Listening
  • Time Management

You can work on these soft skills and your training during your residency or fellowship, where you’ll receive extensive on-the-job training while working with patients and creating treatment plans.

A residency focuses on clinical and didactic (instruction-driven) education for physical therapists and is designed to prepare you to care for patients in a defined area of clinical practice. You’ll improve your skills in patient care, examining, evaluating, and more. A fellowship is typically completed after a residency and gives you more experience in a subspecialty area of physical therapy, whether that’s in patient care, healthcare education, or research.

You might also be in charge of supervising and working with a number of physical therapy assistants across various settings. So those communication skills are going to come in very handy.

What are some physical therapy career paths?

During your doctoral program, and undergrad as well, you’ll be exposed to different areas of physical therapy. From sports medicine to rehabilitation, there are many different spaces in which a physical therapist can work.

Types of PT Jobs

The types of physical therapy that you will encounter during your school years include:

  • Pediatric
  • Neurological
  • Geriatric
  • Cardiovascular/Pulmonary
  • Vestibular Rehabilitation
  • Orthopedic

Once you experience all of these, it’s easier to determine which one you want as your specialty. Maybe you enjoy working with younger people and want to specialize in pediatrics, or perhaps want to help people recover from broken bones in orthopedics.

Related Careers for PTs

When you’re evaluating your career options for physical therapy, you’ll need to decide whether you want to work for a hospital or a private practice. In a hospital setting, you’ll likely work with a diverse array of patients, helping them to recover after a trauma or a surgery.

Private practice offers more options as far as work settings go. You might find yourself at an outpatient clinic, a sports medicine facility, a nursing home, or working in home health care.

Apply to be a Physical Therapist at Brooks Rehabilitation

Ready for a career in physical therapy? Come join the team at Brooks Rehabilitation.

With more than 50 years of expertise, we deliver exceptional medical rehabilitation services to our patients. From stroke victims to multiple sclerosis patients, we’ve helped so many people improve their quality of life.

Apply now to start the process. We look forward to meeting you!

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