The demand for physical therapy in the US is on the rise, with the industry expected to reach $45 billion by 2023, up from 33 billion in 2019. The typical physical therapy clinic now sees up to 200 patients per week.
As more people seek physical therapy, practitioners in the industry will continue to be in high demand. Between 2020 and 2030, there’ll be an average of 25,600 new job openings for physical therapists (PTs) per year.
People who meet physical therapist education requirements are well-positioned for a highly satisfying career. In 2020, the median pay for physical therapists reached an impressive $91,010 per year, well above the national average.
If a career in the physical therapy field interests you but you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about how to become a physical therapist.
What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Before you enroll in a PT education program, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what physical therapists do. A physical therapist is an expert in body movements who helps enhance patients’ quality of life through prescribed physical exercise, hands-on care, and patient education.
Physical therapists can diagnose and treat patients of all ages, from newborns to individuals at the end of life. Most people who need physical therapy have disabilities, injuries, or other health conditions that require treatment. Some people may also seek physical therapy to become healthier and avert future problems.
A PT first examines the patient before developing a treatment plan meant to:
- Manage or reduce pain
- Boost movement ability
- Restore function
- Prevent disability
When you choose a career in physical therapy, you can specialize in any one of many different fields, including pediatrics, women’s health, sports, geriatrics, clinical electrophysiology, and so on.
As a PT, you can work in various settings, including clinics, hospitals, care facilities, and private residences. A significant percentage of PTs work in the offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Other working environments include athletic training centers, schools, oncology wards, and cardiac rehabilitation facilities.
What Are the Physical Therapist Education Requirements?
Now that you’ve seen what a therapist does and where they work, it’s time to review the requirements of becoming a physical therapist in the US. Let’s get started.
- Get a Bachelor’s Degree
The first step in becoming a physical therapist bachelor’s degree in health science, sports or exercise science, or some other closely related field.
Some graduate programs will require particular prerequisites, such as biology, physics, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and kinesiology. Thus, if you intend to enroll in a doctoral program at some point, it helps to know these prerequisites as early as possible.
- Enrol in a DPT Program
The second step in becoming a physical therapist is to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. This program prepares you to work in the physical therapy field and includes biomechanics, anatomy, pathology, and imaging courses.
In the US, a DPT degree typically takes two years. The second year is usually meant for providing you with a more hands-on experience, where students learn in a clinic under guided supervision.
- Pass the NPTE
The next step is to take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). The exam is usually computer-administered and comprises five sections. Candidates are expected to answer 250 multiple-choice questions in total.
NPTE scores range from 200 to 800, with the passing grade being 600 and above. The exam is offered four times per year, with candidates allowed to take the exam up to three times a year. Consider taking an NPTE course from a leading online provider to improve your chances of success.
- Get Licensed
Once you’ve passed your NPTE, it’s time to apply for a PT license. You’ll need to complete compliance training and go through background checks to meet PT licensing requirements.
In many states, PTs are required to meet ongoing education requirements on a two-year basis. The goal is to keep PTs up-to-date on their profession and chosen specialty.
- Complete Your Residency
While this step is optional, it’s valuable in your quest to become a competent physical therapist. A residency involves some training, coursework, and time in a clinic.
Choosing to complete a residency helps enrich your hands-on experience as a PT. It’s also an excellent opportunity to help you know for sure what PT specialization works best for you.
Those who opt to skip this step can seek a PT job in their area or even start their own practices.
- Get Certified by the Board
This step is also optional but can prove helpful in propelling your career as a PT. Physical therapists in America are certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS).
If you want to become certified by the board, you need to pass an exam in one of the specialties offered by the ABPTS. You’ll also need to have at least 2,000 hours of clinical work or complete an accredited residency program. There may also be other requirements, depending on your specialty.
Kickstart Your Career as a PT by Meeting the Educational Requirements
From getting a bachelor’s degree to residency and board certification, the physical therapist education requirements can seem many. It requires a considerable amount of patience and undying willingness to put everything in order. However, the rewards are well worth the work.
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