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How to Become a Physical Therapist in the US

Physical therapists help patients who are either in rehabilitation from an injury or stroke, or people with debilitating diseases that limit their range of motion. They help their patients to perform exercises that will help them with the mobility of their limbs. Common patients include stroke patients, disabled veterans and injured athletes.

What do Physical Therapists do?

A physical therapist is a healthcare professional that evaluates and treats the symptoms of movement restricting diseases and injures. Some of the things that a physical therapist will evaluate are the patient’s range of motion, strength, balance, general mobility, among many other things. After evaluating a patient’s condition, they create a patient care plan that is unique to that patient that will help restore their physical functioning. Some important components of the client’s wellness plan is education about the patient’s condition, instruction in exercises that they should practice on their own, and motivating the patient to participate as much as possible to ensure their rapid improvement.

Work Environment

The work environment of physical therapists varies, but they usually work in a clinic or hospital setting. The work environment can change according to the types of patients that they see. They can work in a clinic that specializes in treating sports and orthopedic injuries. They could work in a clinic that specializes in just workplace injuries. Or they could work in a school, hospital, or even in the patient’s home. The work environment for physical therapists tends to be a bit more stressful on average than other jobs, because of the physical strain and the fact that they have to be on their feet all day.


The salary of physical therapists can vary greatly depending on their level of education, specialty, and location. Some specialties that pay the most are geriatrics and home care. It is common for a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) to reach a six-figure salary while a Staff Physical Therapist only reaches just above a mid five figure salary.


Average Pay

Entry Level (0-5 yrs)


Mid Career (5-10 yrs)


Experienced (10-20 yrs)


Source: Payscale

Education and Training

In order to become a physical therapist, one must successfully complete a MPT (Masters of Physical Therapy) and/or a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy). Most programs will only admit those who have successfully obtained their bachelors degree. While a specific undergraduate major is not required, it is recommended that one majors in Physical Therapy or something similar. The graduate programs do entail science courses such as Biology, Physiology, Biomechanics, Neuroscience, and many others. If you didn’t major in Physical Therapy or another science based major, you may be required to take extra science courses before being admitted into a MPT or DPT program.

DPT programs are 3 years long and virtually all accredited physical therapy programs in America transitions into a DPT program. The entrance exam is the GRE (Graduate Records Examination) which is a general entrance exam for business and liberal arts majors. It can be taken up to five times per year. After completion of the program, physical therapists can further their education and training by completing clinical residencies and clinical fellowships. They also have the opportunity to become licensed by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialities (ABPTS) in order to practice in the following specialties:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Orthopaedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports Physical Therapy
  • Women’s Health

Although certification is not required for physical therapists, it is required to practice in one of the above specialties. Also these specialties tend to pay more.

Employment Prospects

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for physical therapists is expected to grow 36% from 2012 to 2022, which is much faster than average for all other jobs. The outlook for physical therapists is a positive one, as are all healthcare occupations in the United States. This surge can be attributed to the aging baby boomers and the rise in mobility issues for the obese and diabetic.




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