Physical therapists work closely with patients of all ages who have medical conditions, illnesses or injuries that prevent them from doing the day-to-day activities they need to do in order to function independently. They aim to help individuals by restoring function, promoting better movement, preventing disability and reducing pain. Physical therapists also teach patients and their families proper care after the physical therapy is over. If you are interested in learning how to become a physical therapist, consider following the guidelines below.
What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Physical therapists start by fully reviewing a patient's medical history. They discuss this history with the patient to get a complete understanding of the problem area and the goals sought by the patient and/or their doctor. The therapist then performs a physical examination of the patient that can include testing range of motion, strength, muscle tone, balance and coordination and motor function. Once these tests have been completed the physical therapist has the information necessary to develop a treatment plan for the patient.
Most often the treatment plan consists of exercises that the patient will perform under supervision at the physical therapy location and then later at home. These exercises seek to improve range of motion, mobility, strength and endurance. Treatments also may include deep tissue massage, hot or cold pack therapies, or electrical stimulation. Physical therapists assist patients in learning how to use assistive devices such as crutches, wheelchairs, and prosthetics. As the treatment proceeds, the therapist continually monitors and records patient progress and will periodically perform a reevaluation of the patient's condition. Treatment plans are updated or modified as the patient progresses.
Physical Therapist Specializations
Some physical therapists choose to undergo voluntary board certification to improve their employment and earning potential. Physical therapy certification is a function of the American Physical Therapy Association and requires applicants to meet certain education criteria and pass intensive exams. Specialist certification is available in a number of areas, including:
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Health
- Clinical Electrophysiology
- Women's Health
Steps to Become a Physical Therapist
Physical therapy requires extensive knowledge of injuries, conditions and disabilities that cause physical pain or impair movement. This requires a great deal of medical knowledge and an understanding of medical or technological advancements affecting the field. Learn how to become a physical therapist by following these steps for education and entry into the workforce:
- Take undergraduate courses in key science disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, and social science.
- Attain your master's degree or doctoral degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). This is required in order to achieve licensure.
- Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, and fulfill all state exams that might be required in your specific state. Many states also require continuing education to keep your license up to date.
How to Become a GREAT Physical Therapist
As with any job, there are a number of ways you can go above and beyond the call of duty. And when it comes to health care and providing aid to others,
- Certification: Improve your earning potential by becoming certified through the American Physical Therapy Association.
- Stay Updated: There are many technological advancements in the field that can help your patients, so stay on the cutting edge by taking continuing education classes and reading relevant journals.
- Professional Association: Join your local chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association.
- Career Advancement: While most physical therapy degree-holders intend to become physical therapists, there are additional career paths available to them. Academia is a popular alternative, as is research and development.
Resources for Physical Therapists
- The American Physical Therapy Association
- Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association
- A World of Physical Therapy
- The American Physical Therapy Association, http://www.apta.org/
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapist,http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm