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Physical Therapists in Demand in Healthcare


Updated March 22, 2012

Physical Therapists in Demand in Healthcare
@Keith Brofsky, Getty Images


In terms of industry recruiting physical therapists careers are expected to grow much faster than average and job opportunities are good.

The Bureau of Labor statistics notes that about 60 percent of physical therapists work in hospitals or in offices of other health practitioners. We see this shifting as more nursing home and other providers embrace the rehabilitation business. And as aging-in-place becomes more the norm, look for these services to mover into the home.

Scope of Responsibilities:

Physical therapists examine each individual and develop a plan using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

Physical therapists provide care to people of all ages who have functional problems resulting from, for example, back and neck injuries, sprains/strains and fractures, arthritis, burns, amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, conditions such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida, and injuries related to work and sports.

Physical therapy care and services are provided by physical therapists and physical therapist assistants who work under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist. Physical therapists evaluate and diagnose movement dysfunction and use interventions to treat patient/clients. Interventions may include therapeutic exercise, functional training, manual therapy techniques, assistive and adaptive devices and equipment, and physical agents and electrotherapeutic modalities.

Physical therapists often consult and practice with a variety of other professionals, such as physicians, dentists, nurses, educators, social workers, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists.

Work Environment:

Physical therapists practice in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private offices and increasingly in nursing and assisted living facilities.

These jobs can be physically demanding, because therapists may have to stoop, kneel, crouch, lift, and stand for long periods. In addition, physical therapists move heavy equipment and lift patients or help them turn, stand, or walk.

Training and Education:

You need a post-baccalaureate degree from an accredited physical therapy program. All States regulate the practice of physical therapy, which usually requires passing scores on national and State examinations.

The American Physical Therapy Association’s accrediting body, called the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), accredits entry-level academic programs in physical therapy. Currently, only graduate degree physical therapist programs are accredited. Master's degree programs typically are 2 to 2.5 years in length, while doctoral degree programs last 3 years.

Physical therapist education programs include foundational science courses and behavioral science. In addition to classroom and laboratory instruction, students receive supervised clinical experience.

Undergraduate courses that are useful when one applies to a physical therapist education program are anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics, social science, mathematics, and statistics.

Physical therapists should have strong interpersonal and communication skills, so they can educate patients about their condition and physical therapy treatments and communicate with patients' families. Physical therapists also should be compassionate and possess a desire to help patients.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual wages of physical therapists were $72,790 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $60,300 and $85,540. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $50,350, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $104,350. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of physical therapists in May 2008 were:

  • Home health care services - $77,630
  • Nursing care facilities - 76,680
  • General medical and surgical hospitals - 73,270
  • Physician Offices - 72,790
  • Offices of other health practitioners - 71,400

Outlook and Advancement:

Physical therapists are expected to continue their professional development by participating in continuing education courses and workshops. Some physical therapists become board certified in a clinical specialty. Opportunities for physical therapists exist in academia and research. Some become self-employed, providing contract services or opening a private practice.

Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow by 30 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Increased patient access to services, the needs of the elderly population, the growth of the boomers and other aging trends will drive growth in the demand for physical therapy services.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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