How to Become a Physical Therapist

Are you great at encouraging people to keep working on getting back on their feet? Does the idea of helping someone regain their independence and mobility give you a sense of satisfaction? You could have a wonderful career as a physical therapist!

Job Overview

How to Become a Physical Therapist

A Physical Therapist stretching a client’s knee to help regain movement.

Physical therapists help people who have an illness or injury control their pain, regain their mobility and rehabilitate and treat patients who have chronic injuries or illnesses. They observe how patients’ move to diagnose injuries or illnesses. They create plans and goals for patients to regain movement, flexibility and strength through stretching, exercise and equipment. They evaluate a patient’s progress and alter treatment plans and goals on an as needed basis. They provide education to patients and their families on recovery.

Requirements and Qualifications

In addition to educational, licensing and certification requirements, physical therapists have other requirements. You will spend a great deal of time on your feet and being active while assisting your patients. Some physical therapists are self employed in their own practice or overseeing other therapists, requiring some business knowledge. Qualities you may want to develop to help in your career as a physical therapist include compassion, interpersonal skills, being detail oriented, dexterity and physical stamina.

Typical Education

Most physical therapists pursue a postgraduate degree as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, though some do pursue a Master of Physical Therapy. A bachelor’s degree is required for either program, with certain coursework in anatomy, biology, physiology and chemistry being required prior to admission. Your coursework in a postgraduate program includes anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biomechanics and neuroscience. You will also complete supervised clinical duties which provide work experience.

Steps to Become a Physical Therapist

Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Following graduation, you are able to enter a nine month to three year residency program which will teach you additional skills and specialties. You will need to pass a state-administered exam or the National Physical Therapy Examination, depending on state licensing requirements. Many states have a continuing education requirement for licensees. Some therapists choose to take an exam to become board certified in specific specialties.

Similar Jobs

Not quite what you want to do? That’s okay! Here are some more careers to explore that have similar requirements and work.

  • Can you hear me now? Audiologists help evaluate and correct hearing and balance issues using a variety of procedures and technologies.
  • Sit up straight! Chiropractors use manipulation of the spine to treat an assortment of ills and musculoskeletal aches and pains.
  • Want to help someone regain their independence? Occupational therapists work with patients with disabilities, injuries or other limitations to learn how to perform daily tasks.
  • Want to help people have fun? Recreational therapists use the arts, sports and field trips to help improve the physical and mental condition of patients with disabilities or illnesses.
  • Help them communicate! Speech-language pathologists help patients with swallowing, communication or speech disorders by diagnosing and treating their condition.


The average annual pay for physical therapists was $76,310 in May of 2010, more than double the average of all occupations. Though a few work part time, 71% of all physical therapists worked full time.

Job Outlook

What an outlook! Physical therapists can expect a much faster than average growth in opportunities of 39% over the next decade as compared to the average of all occupations at 14%. A more active, aging population will need rehabilitation services to stay active and independent. Medical advances provide more opportunities for physical therapists to help patients with rehabilitation. These advances also allow trauma victims and babies born with birth defects to survive and need assistance with rehabilitative care. Job opportunities should remain good, especially for those practicing in acute medical, nursing and orthopedic sectors.

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