Job Title: Physical Therapist
Type of Company: I work for a small hospital that specializes in long-term care for the gravely ill, especially those with respiratory problems.
Education: A.D., Liberal Arts, Quincy College (Quincy, MA) BS, Physical Therapy, Northeastern University
Previous Experience: I worked as a physical therapist in a skilled nursing facility for a couple of years and then worked in early intervention for three years. After that, I worked at a SNF again, and then at a hospital for a year, followed by home care for another year. Before taking my current job, I did another year-long stint at a skilled nursing facility.
Job Tasks: As a physical therapist, I evaluate patients who get admitted to the hospital. During an evaluation, I look at a person's overall strength and how flexible his arms, legs, trunk and neck are. I find out if he can roll from side to side in bed and whether he can get out of bed and stand up and walk. I inquire about pain and discomfort that could interfere with his mobility. I check his balance to see if falling is a risk and try to determine whether a walker, cane or crutches would be useful. I try to make an assessment of a patient's cognitive status as well, to see if he can follow instructions during treatment. Getting an accurate picture of a person's pre-morbid level of function -- of what he could do before he got sick -- is also a very important aspect of the assessment.
After completing the assessment, we devise a treatment plan that addresses all the patient's shortcomings and takes into account where he'll go once when he's been discharged form the hospital. Treatment typically consists of strengthening and stretching exercises, functional mobility training, gait and stair training, balance activities and patient and family education. We can use hot-packs to relax sore muscles and render tissue more pliable, or ice to decrease swelling and inflammation. Electrical stimulation can be used to control pain and swelling and to enhance muscle contraction. Ultrasound is another form of treatment we use to control pain and heal tissue by providing deep heat.
Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is that I get to work with a huge variety of people and help them improve their physical well-being. People usually are very appreciative of my work and get motivated by their success.
The worst part is filling out all the paperwork. Apart from writing up an initial evaluation, we write daily notes on all patients, bi-monthly re-assessments and discharge summaries.
Job Tips: Working as a rehab aide can give you a great overall introduction to what a physical therapist does. You will get comfortable interacting with patients and you will become familiar with the equipment we use. Many places will let you come in and shadow a therapist for a number of hours, which is often a requirement to get into a physical therapy program.
Additional Thoughts: There are lots of opportunities for physical therapists. We work in school settings, Early Intervention Programs (making home visits to infants and toddlers), hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, home care settings, outpatient clinics, for sports teams and dance companies. Some of us even work with animals. Most times the job market is pretty strong since no matter what the economy looks like, people will always get sick or injured.
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