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Career Profile: Physical Therapist

Why Is Physical Therapy a Job of Tomorrow?
Physical therapists provide a valuable service in rehabilitating those who are injured or otherwise impaired, and as the population ages, physical therapy for the elderly will become more commonly sought. Employment positions for physical therapists are forecast to increase 27 percent, a much faster growth rate than the average for all U.S. occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary for physical therapists is $66,200.


What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Physical therapists work with patients who have mobility or pain management issues for a variety of reasons, including normal aging pains, injuries or illnesses. Therapists aim to alleviate or at least lessen pain, restore movement and function to injured areas of the body, improve mobility and promote overall wellness in patients. Patients who have suffered an injury, as well as those with debilitating conditions, such as arthritis or chronic back pain, often need the aid of a physical therapist to help condition their muscles to perform basic everyday activities, such as walking. After examining a patient, a physical therapist creates a treatment plan to increase the patient's endurance, strength and balance to promote independence. Physical therapists are also responsible for monitoring the progress of the patient. If a new issue arises, therapists must tailor the plan to work with the new complication. There are various specializations within the field, including cardiopulmonary, geriatric, neurological, orthopedic, pediatric and integumentary therapies.

What Kind of Training Do I Need to Become a Physical Therapist?
Physical therapists typically have a master's or doctoral degree in health care from an accredited program. Physical therapy programs are accredited only at these degree levels, according to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. After earning a bachelor's, the master's degree program typically lasts two years, and the doctoral program typically lasts three years. In all, prospective physical therapists should expect to spend at least six years in schooling before becoming certified to practice professionally. The requirements for licensure vary among states, so those looking to earn an education in one location and begin practicing in another should be aware of the differing criteria for physical therapists. However, all states generally require that the applicant have a master's or doctoral degree, professional work experience and evidence that he or she completed and passed the certification exam.