Rising Tide in Physical Therapy, Degrees, Jobs, and Salaries

How would you like a career where you can provide pain and injury relief to sick and injured people and help them feel better? Physical Therapists (PTs) have this challenge and responsibility every day. If you’re interested in learning how to become a PT or what the career entails, you’ll find everything you need to know below.

How to Become a Physical Therapy Professional?

The training requirements for physical therapy professionals depends on what the student wishes to become. A physical therapy assistant must complete an associate degree program that’s accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). As of 2012, there were almost 300 CAPTE-accredited associate degree programs in the United States.

The physical therapy assistant programs include didactic studies and a clinical internship in a physical therapy treatment center. In addition to completing the training program, the student must pass the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) examination so that he or she can be licensed, which is required in all states. The student may also be required to pass a state certification exam depending on the state.

To become a physical therapist requires much more training and more years in school. Typically, a physical therapists training includes baccalaureate education, physical therapy school, residency and fellowship. More details are listed in the next section. The student must complete a CAPTE-accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. As of 2013, there were over 200 schools in the U.S. Once all the training has been completed, the physical therapist must also pass a FSBPT licensing examination.

In some states, the therapist may also have to pass a law exam and pass a criminal background check. Once the physical therapist has obtained at least 2,000 hours of clinical work or the residency, he or she may choose to become board-certified through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, which offers eight different areas of specialization. Both the physical therapist and the physical therapy assistant must complete continuing education credits to maintain their licenses and certification. Both of these programs usually have a very competitive admissions process, and potential students must meet all admission requirements.

What Type of Physical Therapy Degree is Needed?

The type of physical therapy degree a student pursues depends on what the student wishes to do in his or her career. Physical therapy assistants are only required to complete an associate degree program, which usually takes about two years to complete. Physical therapists, on the other hand, must complete a doctoral degree program. Physical therapists must first complete three to four years of undergraduate education and then complete an actual physical therapy program, which can take about three years. In total, the physical therapist completes approximately seven years of education. In addition to this training, the physical therapist usually completes a residency at a hospital or clinic, which adds at least a year more to the training. Some physical therapists even complete a fellowship to learn more and enhance their resume.

What About Online Education?

Although online education is offered for some of the courses required in physical therapy programs, there are currently no 100% online physical therapy programs. Many of the physical therapy programs require the student to have some shadowing experience prior to even entering the actual program. In addition, the clinical education or internships are such a large part of the program and this can only be completed on site at a medical facility.

What is the Job Demand for Graduates of Physical Therapy Programs?

There is great demand for both qualified physical therapists and physical therapy assistants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapists should see an employment growth of thirty- six percent from 2012-2022, and physical therapy assistants should see a growth of forty-one percent. In 2012, there were more than 204,000 physical therapists and almost 70,000 physical therapy assistants working the United States, according to the BLS. This number continues to grow as these medical professionals continue to be necessary to provide pain and injury relief.

What Are Physical Therapy Salaries Like?

With different types of physical therapy jobs available, the physical therapy salaries are going to be different as well. For instance physical therapy aides, physical therapy assistants and actual physical therapists are all physical therapy related occupations, but each come with different wages. Salary.com reports that physical therapists earned an average annual wage of $79,158 as of August 2014 while physical therapy assistants earned an average of $49,663. Physical therapists salaries ranged from just under $67,000 to more than $91,000. Physical therapy assistant wages varied from under $41,000 to more $58,000. Factors that may affect earnings are place of employment, demographic location and years of experience.

Trends in Physical Therapy

The field of physical therapy has become a very important field and one that offers some excellent types of physical therapy jobs. One of the biggest changes coming to this field will be their place of employment. Whereas, in the past, physical therapy works typically working in hospitals, they’ll now be finding more jobs in sports medicine, private medical clinics, home care services or in nursing homes working beside a home health aid. In fact, physical therapy providers should see a job growth of at least forty seven percent by 2018. Another trend in this field is that more physical therapists will be traveling to a patient’s home to provide the patient with pain relief without requiring the patient to travel. The physical therapist will also provide pain relief to a wider array of patients and in more facilities as stated above. They’ll almost be like a traveling medical professional.

Related or Similar Fields

In addition to being an actual physical therapist, there are several physical therapy related occupations or similar fields one might wish to pursue. These programs are listed below along with what type of education is required and what the mean annual wages were for those occupations in 2013, as reported by the BLS.

  • Home Health Aid – Requires non-degree training program – $20,820
  • Medical Assistants – Requires non-degree postsecondary training – 29,370
  • Nursing Assistants – Requires non-degree training program – $24,400
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant – Requires associate degree – $48,940
  • Pharmacy Technician – Requires non-degree training program – $29,320
  • Chiropractors – Requires doctoral or professional degree – $66,160
  • Recreational Therapist – Requires bachelor’s degree – $42,280
  • Occupational Therapist – Requires master’s degree – $75,400
  • Athletic Trainer & Exercise Physiologist – Requires bachelor’s degree – $42,690
  • Speech-language Pathologist – Requires master’s degree – $69,870