Allied Health Guides

Physical Therapist Career Overview

Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN
February 14, 2023
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What is a Physical Therapist?

A Physical Therapist (PT) is a movement expert who works with patients during their recovery following surgery or injury. On occasion, they may also support individuals living with physical disabilities. PTs help patients regain mobility through strength, stretching, and manual therapy techniques. 

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Physical therapy can be both corrective and preventative. PTs usually start by completing a physical examination to gain a better understanding of a patient’s injury, condition, or any imbalance they may have. The goal is to restore functionality by improving movement and increasing the range of motion in specific body areas. Continuous PT treatments can even reduce or eliminate a patient’s need for pain medication prescription or surgery. 

Everyday tasks of a PT include:

  • Recognizing conditions by observing patients walking, standing, or performing tasks.
  • Listening to patients’ concerns.
  • Reviewing and documenting medical records and progress.
  • Developing an individual rehabilitation plan for patients.
  • Using therapeutic aids, such as kinesthetic tape, electrical stimulation, and exercise equipment.
  • Educating and assisting patients with supportive devices like a crutch, walker, or cane.
  • Manipulating muscle tissue through massage.

Depending on the setting a PT works in, their daily interactions and duties with patients may differ. For example, a PT working solely in a hospital may only meet with patients once or twice after surgery, whereas a PT in private practice may see the same patients weekly as they assist them on their entire rehabilitation journey.

What Skills Does a Physical Therapist Need?

Successful PTs have many skills, below are just a few:

  • Good communication and interpersonal skills – Working with patients who are disabled or injured can be challenging. PTs will need to be able to efficiently explain exercises and treatment plans while also being encouraging as the process can be difficult for some patients.
  • Detail-orientated – Monitoring and documenting progress is important to creating successful rehabilitation plans.
  • Flexibility and problem-solving skills – Each patient’s needs will be different, and being able to adapt and adjust treatment plans is critical to your patient’s success and recovery.
  • Strong working knowledge of the muscular-skeletal system and a holistic approach to health.

Work Settings For Physical Therapists

Physical therapists are needed in a variety of settings and work with patients of all ages. Hospitals employ PTs to help patients after surgeries. In schools and universities, PTs are hired for injured athletes and athletic programs. There is also the option to work in private practice or rehabilitation clinics seeing a variety of different patients. 

Common Cases Physical Therapists Encounter

Some of the most common cases PTs help patients with are:

  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Neck and back pain
  • Work-related injuries
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Joint replacement
  • Limited range of motion
  • Balance issues

How to Become a Physical Therapist

To become a PT in the United States, you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree (DPT) and pass a state licensure exam. DPT programs typically take three years to complete, most DPT programs require applicants to earn a bachelor’s degree prior to admission. 

How to Advance Your Career as a Physical Therapist

After graduation and gaining work experience, some PTs choose to further their expertise by becoming board-certified specialists. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers certifications in areas such as orthopedics, sports, geriatrics, women’s health, and neurology. 

Average Salary For Physical Therapists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary is $95,620.00 and the growth rate for physical therapy is projected to increase by 17% from 2021 to 2031.

California is the highest-paid state for PTs with annual wages averaging $106,000 and Arkansas pays the lowest at an average of $64,000 a year.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Physical Therapist

Physical therapy is not for everyone. Below are a few benefits and downsides to consider before starting your journey to become a PT:


  • Helping patients regain their mobility, reduce or eliminate pain and offer preventative strategies against further injuries is incredibly rewarding.
  • PTs are in high demand. With a projected job growth of close to 20%, there is no shortage of future opportunities for a PT.
  • PT offers a variety of different work settings. 
  • There are many areas to specialize in to keep your passion strong.


  • PT is very physically demanding. Oftentimes you will need to assist patients with moving and you will be on your feet most of the day.
  • There is a lot of documentation required for each patient. 
  • Education and certification exams are extensive and you must re-certify every two years. 

Ideal Personality Traits

Along with your passion to help others, some ideal personality traits that make PTs stand out are:

  • Patience - Staying calm and compassionate when working with challenging clients will be an important trait for a PT’s success and the success of their patient.
  • A good communicator - PTs and patients are working together to reach their goals. This takes considerable communication and collaboration.
  • Eager to learn - Patients will come to PTs with a wide range of injuries and conditions. This will require the need to continually learn better ways to support them and stay up to date on innovative treatment protocols. 

Physical therapy is a fun, challenging, and rewarding career where you get to work hands-on with patients making a difference in their lives. With Trusted Health's Allied Health Jobs, you can find your dream PT job in your ideal location. Click here to get started today! 

Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN

Amanda is a nurse with over ten years of experience in clinical settings. She is an expert in family medicine as well as various specialties. Her holistic approach to health focuses on wellness and preventative care. She now writes content for health and wellness brands under her company name, Locksley Content.

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