Are you interested in helping people recover from injuries? Do you want to help athletes, the elderly, adults, and children attain their full physical potential?
Then you should set your eyes on becoming a physical therapist. The U.S. Bureau of Statistics projects that this career field will grow by 21% by 2030 — much faster than the average growth for all occupations.
So, how should you prepare yourself to leverage this promising career path? Read on to learn what a physical therapist does and the steps to becoming a physical therapist.
What Is a Physical Therapist?
Physical therapists are professionals who treat people experiencing difficulties with movements and functional activities due to pain or other factors. The American Physical Therapy Association describes physical therapists as movement experts.
The term sums up what these professionals do because their main goal is to address the key factors affecting people’s physical mobility and functioning.
As a physical therapist, you’ll use hands-on care, prescribed exercises, and education to improve people’s quality of life. You will work with people of all ages to help them maintain or regain independence. You may also help individuals attain fitness goals and remain active in life.
Steps to Becoming a Physical Therapist
To become a successful physical therapist, you’ll need a few years of preparation. Here is a list of the steps you should consider:
Start Preparing at High School
If you’ve set your mind on becoming a physical therapist, you can start preparing as early as high school. Ensure that you choose and excel in the most appropriate classes. These will include science and math classes.
You can take AP or honors science courses to challenge yourself. Make sure you earn good grades to get into universities and colleges with outstanding science programs.
While in high school, you can shadow a physical therapist to get a better grasp of what it means to work as one. You can reach out to your friends, family, or local physical therapists to see if they will give you this opportunity. You can also volunteer to work with individuals with impaired mobility.
Earn a Relevant Bachelor’s Degree
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree to be accepted into a doctoral program in physical therapy. Your bachelor’s degree program doesn’t have to be about physical therapy. However, it should be health-related and applicable to physical therapy.
There are many health-related options you can consider for your undergraduate degree. You can take physiology, anatomy, biology, neuroscience, musculoskeletal science, and kinesiology, among others.
The idea is to pick up the foundational skills and knowledge necessary in physical therapy. First, you can check with the doctoral program to understand the particular prerequisite requirements.
Earn a Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy
To practice as a physical therapist, you’ll need to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DTP) degree. It will take three years to complete the degree. Your course work will cover functional anatomy, communication, exercise physiology, clinical reasoning, pharmacology, and more.
You’ll also split your time between classwork and hands-on learning under the supervision of a clinical instructor.
The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredits DPT programs. So, ensure that you choose a program that is CAPTE accredited. It is the only way you’ll qualify to take licensure exams once you graduate.
Obtain Your State’s Physical Therapy License
You must have a license to practice as a physical therapist in the United States. The licensure requirements will differ slightly from state to state. As such, ensure that you understand what your state’s regulatory board requires.
To obtain your PT license, you have to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). This exam is competency-specific and will cover everything in physical therapy practice. To prepare for the NPTE, you can consider an online review course that will give you tips on approaching the exam.
The licensing requirements in your state may also include a criminal background check and a law exam.
Complete a Residency Program
Although this step is optional, it will help you, especially if you want to specialize in a given area in the physical therapy field. The residency program will allow you to train further and gain more experience in a given specialty.
There are two types of residencies that you can choose to enhance your physical therapy skills. One is clinical residency, which will allow you to advance your practice under supervision. The second is clinical fellowship, which will sharpen your expertise in a specific area.
During the residency program, you’ll be working with experienced physical therapists. Therefore, it is your opportunity to sharpen your skills and prepare to excel in specialized physical therapist roles. When clients are choosing a physical therapist, they will most likely consider you if you have specialized in their area of interest.
Consider Board Certification
This is probably one of the least considered physical therapist tips. Although it is optional, it will be your opportunity to become a clinical specialist certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS).
ABPTS offers ten specialty areas, depending on your competency and clinical proficiency. To be board-certified, you will have to take and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam. You’ll also complete an accredited residency program or 2,000 clinical work hours in your specialty.
Find a Physical Therapist Job
After completing the above steps, you should start looking for a job. Start by determining where or the environment in which you want to practice.
You could look for a job within or outside your state, depending on factors like salary and availability of jobs. You can work as a physical therapist in various settings. Examples include hospitals, fitness centers, nursing homes, and schools.
You can also consider opening your own physical therapy clinic or working as a traveling physical therapist. Check out different job search websites to learn about the available job openings.
Once you find a job, continue your education. This may include taking part in webinars and attending conferences.
Ready to Take the Steps to Becoming a Physical Therapist?
Physical therapy is one of the most rewarding careers, as you’ll have an opportunity to improve people’s physical functioning. The steps to becoming a physical therapist are pretty straightforward. You can use the steps in this physical therapist guide to soar higher in your career.
If you enjoyed reading the article, keep tabs on our blog for more informative content.