(Frequently Asked Questions)
1. What does a Physical Therapist do?
A Physical Therapist (PT) provides services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disability of patients with injuries or disease. They work directly with their patients, but also closely along with other health care professions, to restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and wellness for healthier and more active lifestyles. There is no "typical" patient; PTs may work with accident victims, fractures, head injuries, arthritis, heart disease, and cerebral palsy. Physical Therapy is a very autonomous career. PTs determine a diagnosis, prognosis, and implement a specific and individualized plan of care in order to restore the patient's ability to be independent and reintegrate into the community or workplace after an injury or illness.
2. What are the differences between a Physical Therapist and an Occupational Therapist?
Physical Therapists (PT) focus on the large motor groups that contribute to walking, reaching, standing, and physical activities. They work on strength, balance, range of motion, and swelling as well as pain, to encourage independence. Occupational Therapists (OT), on the other hand, help individuals achieve independence and improve one's ability to perform activities of daily life (ADLs) and self-care. For example OTs may help patients learn to dress themselves, brush their teeth, or comb their hair after a stroke or illness that has severely weakened their arms. It is important to note that many times the two will collaborate very closely with one another in order to provide the best care for the patient.
3. Where do Physical Therapists typically work?
Many Physical Therapists practice in hospitals. However, more than 80% work in other settings, such as: acute care, rehab/sub-rehab clinics, private practice, schools, nursing homes, and many more.
4. What are the pre-requisites for a Physical Therapy program?
The most commonly required course pre-requisites include:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Medical Terminology
- General Biology
- Advanced Biology (i.e. Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Genetics)
- General and Organic Chemistry
- General Physics
- Psychology (i.e. Abnormal, Behavioral, Developmental, or Cognitive)
- English Composition
For a complete and more specific list of pre-requisites, check with the Physical Therapy program that you wish to apply to.
5. What is the common application site for most Physical Therapy programs?
Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service website: http://www.ptcas.org/home.aspx
6. Where can I go to seek out volunteer or shadowing opportunities in Physical Therapy?
One option is to start from scratch:
- Research your area for clinics, rehab facilities, hospitals, and nursing homes.
- Get into contact with the human resources department. These requests are made frequently and you will find most facilities accommodating. Often times, you will have to fill out an application or career exploration request form in order to be considered for a position.
Another option is to network with people that you know have had previous experience in shadowing or observation. Often times, these individuals are your best resources because they know first hand the programs that have worked, and would be of interest to you.
Although it may be difficult and time consuming to find and set up a shadowing or observation opportunity in a health care career, it is absolutely critical, as many post-undergraduate programs now specifically look for this on applications.
7. Where can I search the various accredited Physical Therapy programs?
Search for accredited Physical Therapy programs for your desired study location via this website: http://www.apta.org/apta/directories/accreditedschools.aspx?navID=10737423273
8. How long is a typical graduate program in Physical Therapy and what is the average median salary?
The vast majority of schools in the United States have transitioned to a Doctorate level degree in Physical Therapy (PT). The length of professional DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) programs is typically 3 years. Primary content areas in the curriculum may include, but are not limited to, biology/anatomy, cellular histology, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, behavioral sciences, communication, and ethics/values. 80% of the DPT curriculum comprises of classroom (didactic) and lab study, and the remaining 20% is dedicated to clinical education. PT students spend on average 27.5 weeks in their final clinical experience. Your salary as a Physical Therapist largely depends on the area in which you practice, however, the average median salary is estimated at $76,310 with an excellent job outlook.
Updated 7/27/2015 HB