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Career Spotlight: Physical Therapy

The human body encounters a phenomenal amount of wear and tear. Those who suffer major and minor physical problems may benefit from the attention of a physical therapist.

The human body encounters a phenomenal amount of wear and tear. From athletes to recovering surgical patients, from the very young to the very old, those who suffer major and minor physical problems may benefit from the attention of a physical therapist.

The physical therapist is a specialist who helps train or retrain the body to work normally. Whether a disability is temporary or permanent, whether it represents only a slight limitation or an incapacitating impairment, the role of the physical therapist is to help the patient overcome or cope with it. Effective physical therapists require skill, knowledge, and compassion.

While many physical therapists establish their own practices and provide care directly to patients, others work in a variety of settings, including nursing homes, home health agencies, public and private schools, hospitals, athletic and fitness centers, and research facilities.

A therapist’s specific work is determined by his or her practice specialty, which may be community health, neurology, pediatrics, oncology, orthopedics, geriatrics, or long-term rehabilitation. Physical therapists with specializations in particular areas generally have better job prospects as well.


The job of a physical therapist is to identify, prevent, correct, and ease physical disabil-ities caused by chronic or acute illness, injury, or birth defects. The therapist uses a variety of tests to measure the function of the muscles, the skeleton, and the nervous, pulmonary, and cardiovascular systems before developing treatment methods, which may include the use of special equipment. Patients include amateur and professional athletes, pregnant women, children and adolescents, and people suffering from burns, stroke, cancer, and head or spinal injuries. Physical therapists work with people dealing with all levels of physical injuries, from minor to severe.


Students interested in physical therapy should vigorously pursue science courses, from foundational classes such as biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology to specialized classes like biomechanics, neuroanatomy, and therapeutic procedures. Students should also receive super-vised clinical experience through internships, cooperative education, or residencies.

Degree required

Physical therapists must have a master’s degree from an accredited program in addition to a state license. This requires students to pass national and state examinations. Many colleges and universities offer dual degree programs in physical therapy, where students can pursue an undergraduate and graduate degree concurrently. A doctoral degree, which many schools now offer, may become a requirement for entry-level practice in the future, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.

Job growth

The need for physical therapists is expected to increase by 30% from 2008–2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is anticipated that increased patient access to services will increase the demand for physical therapists in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and facilities that specialize in geriatrics.

Median income

The median salary for physical therapists is $79,860, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Professional organization

American Physical Therapy Association 

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