Physical therapists take on the difficult task of helping injured and ill patients get better. They typically do this by teaching patients specific movements that can help them manage their pain and improve their flexibility. They may also instruct patients on the use of canes, wheelchairs and other equipment to assist patients with mobility.

A physical therapy career can span all fields of health care and include helping people of all ages who suffer from functional limitations from stroke, injury, amputation and disease processes. While these therapists are not doctors, they are an important part of any rehabilitation and treatment team.

A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapists work in multiple settings such as private offices, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes. Some of them also do house calls and work in patients' homes.

Different work settings can mean that the average day of a physical therapist varies dramatically. However, the core functions of their job tend to stay the same. Mostly, they are charged with using their medical and physical expertise to help patients recover from illness or injury. Some of their most common tasks include:

  • Reviewing a patient's medical history and notes from doctors, surgeons and other health care workers
  • Diagnosing a patient's function and movements to figure out the best ways to help them
  • Developing individualized care plans for patients
  • Helping patients formulate goals to recover and adjust to any new physical limitations
  • Listening to patient concerns
  • Using exercises, stretching and other therapies to ease patient pain, increase mobility or help build strength
  • Evaluating patient progress, modifying care plans and trying new treatments as needed
  • Educating patients and their families on what to expect

A physical therapist who works in a nursing home would likely spend the bulk of their day helping elderly people maintain their flexibility and recover from surgery or injury. A physical therapist who works in a hospital, on the other hand, may work with a variety of patients who suffer from a huge range of illnesses or injuries.

Important Characteristics for Physical Therapists

Physical therapists are typically compassionate by nature and enjoy helping others. They need good interpersonal skills to be able to listen to patients, understand what they are experiencing and be able to help motivate them through treatment.

Other skills physical therapists need include attention to detail and dexterity. Because the job itself can be physical in nature, physical therapists also need stamina to be able to be on their feet all the time and to help lift and move patients when necessary.

Physical therapists often work autonomously, so time management and resourcefulness are valuable skill sets to develop for a physical therapy career as well.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Physical Therapist

Because physical therapists need to know a great deal about medicine and the human body, they spend many years in school. If you are trying to figure out how to become a physical therapist, consider this step-by-step roadmap:

1. Earn a high school diploma. Because of the advanced credentials one needs to begin a physical therapy career, earning a high school diploma is necessary.

2. Earn a bachelor's degree. Most physical therapy schools require you to earn a bachelor's degree before admission. Typically, your bachelor's degree needs to be in a field related to health care such as kinesiology, exercise science or medicine.

3. Pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Doctor of Physical Therapy programs typically last three years, and you pursue this degree in addition to a bachelor's degree. Occasionally, however, some colleges will admit a freshman into a full DPT program that includes both a bachelor's degree and their DPT degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that physical therapists need to do at least 30 hours of clinical work to gain hands-on experience.

4 Complete a clinical residence program. Once students graduate from physical therapist programs, they need to apply to a clinical residency program. Residencies usually last approximately one year, and provide additional hands-on training and experience.

5. Become licensed to work in your state. All states require physical therapists to become licensed to work. Licensing requirements vary significantly by state, however. Some states also require a criminal background check and for new therapists to complete continuing education to stay abreast of changes in the field.


  • Doctor of Physical Therapy, UMass Lowell, https://www.uml.edu/Health-Sciences/PT/Graduate/, accessed November 2017
  • Physical Therapist Education Overview, American Physical Therapy Association, http://www.apta.org/PTEducation/Overview/, accessed November 2017
  • Physical Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-24 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Physical Therapist

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Physical Therapist jobs , as of 2016

Metro Area Total Employment Annual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 7,320 $93,790
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington 5,700 $95,300
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn 4,030 $92,610
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach 3,840 $80,250
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward 2,970 $97,660
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell 2,840 $86,340
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land 2,750 $89,820
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue 2,680 $87,570
Pittsburgh 2,630 $78,570
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson 2,600 $84,920

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Physical Therapists

Use our handy tool to see what employment and salary numbers look like for two different metro areas

Select State
Select Metro Area 1
Select Metro Area 2

Total employment and salary for professions similar to physical therapists

Source : 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, BLS.gov

Most Popular Industries for
Physical Therapist

These industries represent at least 1% of the total number of people employed in this occupation.

Industry Total Employment Percent Annual Median Salary
Medical Office 85,180 51% $72,850
Hospital 53,410 32% $73,000
Nursing And Residential Care 12,310 7% $76,370
Education 6,680 4% $63,830
Government 3,530 2% $71,840
Office Services And Staffing 2,750 1% $74,370
Social Service 1,990 1% $73,500
Click the Visit School Site buttons to go directly to a school's website and learn more about the school and programs it has to offer. School website will open in a new tab.
Click the Request Info buttons to request more information from a representative at the school.
Results:  10
Matching School Ads
  • Offers training in various types of massage therapy, physical therapy/sports rehab, and personal fitness training & wellness.
  • Teaches in an environment that promotes learning and encourages empathetic and compassionate therapists.
  • Career service professionals work directly with students from the start of their program, and help them pursue employment in day spas, luxury hotels, cruise ships, and other locations.
  • Students can work in the SOCHI Massage Clinic to gain experience and build their career skills.
  • Financial aid representatives help students develop a personalized financial plan to finance their tuition.
camnpus icon
Request Info
  • For the 12th consecutive year, Cal U was named one for the best schools in the Northeast by The Princeton Review 
  • Recognized by the U.S. News and World Report for: Best Online Programs, Bachelor’s 2017, Best Online Programs, Grad Education 2017 and Best Online Programs, Bachelor’s for Veterans 2017
  • Quality Online courses at Cal U have the same objectives, content and learning outcomes as campus-based programs and are taught by the same expert professors.
  • Offers private school amenities at a public school cost. Student-to-teacher ratio of 20:1
  • CAL U online programs complete an annual assessment of student learning to ensure outcomes are focused on your success in career entry, advancement or enhancement!
  • Which career path will you take – Business, Nursing, Education, Psychology? Something else? GCU offers more than 100 majors to get you started!
  • Colangelo College of Business: Features more than 25 programs from the bachelor through the master's level, including several high-demand MBA programs and an accelerated accounting degree.
  • College of Nursing and Health Care Professions: Rich 25-year history providing outstanding health care and nursing degree programs, including an RN to BSN program & master's in nursing degrees.
  • College of Education: Whether you are looking to start or advance your career as a teacher or administrator, GCU offers bachelor’s and master’s in education degrees in key areas.
  • College of Humanities and Social Sciences: Provides a job focused education and features a variety of programs from counseling and psychology to justice studies, history and English literature.
  • Does something else interest you? GCU also offers programs in Doctoral Studies; Theology; Science, Engineering & Technology; and Fine Arts & Production. Speak with an enrollment counselor today!
  • Offers programs in nursing, medical assisting, pharmacy technology, dental assisting, and more.
  • Six Campuses across Northern CA: Fremont, San Jose, Sacramento, S. San Francisco, Hayward, and Concord.
  • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, with programmatic approvals from the California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians and the Board of Registered Nursing.
  • Approved by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) with an A+ rating since 2010.
camnpus icon
Request Info
  • Dedicated to providing  career training since 1975.
  • Has 13 campus locations in Southern California and a campus in Morrow, GA.
  • Provides flexible class times including weekends.
  • Offers curriculum that ranges from 8 month diploma programs to 16-month Associate of Applied Science degree programs.
  • Has admissions professionals available to help students decide which diploma or degree program they should pursue.
  • Gives job placement assistance strengthened by relationships with local employers.
camnpus icon
Request Info
  • Offers accelerated programs w/ flexible schedules & professional instruction
  • Multiple accredited campuses across 9 states including CA, TX, NV, & PA
  • 10 + programs including Practical Nursing, Dental and Medical Assisting
  • Provides professional development training & career planning resources
  • Military Student Center (MSC) is committed to the success of military students
camnpus icon
Request Info
  • Online bachelor's programs include BBA, Criminal Justice, IT, Healthcare Management, Pscyhology & Public Health
  • Over 115 years of delivering quality education and personalized attention to students
  • Provides an exclusive Ashford Mobile app to keep students connected to the online classroom on the go.
  • Offers a business program in partnership and collaboration with Forbes magazine.
  • Offers several credit transfer and previous experience options for students who qualify.
  • Dedicated to fostering intellectual and personal growth since 1918.
  • Offers associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs in business, health, education, and more.

At American University, our smart, passionate and engaged students and faculty focus their knowledge to create meaningful change. Our strengths in international service and public affairs inspire our sense of social responsibility and a dedication to cultural and intellectual diversity. We’re defined by our global perspective, practical idealism and a dedication to public service.


American University is a private, college-centered research university located in the nation’s capital. It was chartered by the United States Congress in 1893 to build public service, and is now home to a prestigious faculty, guest speakers and visiting world leaders who are influential practitioners and prominent thought leaders.

  • Began in 1909 as a single classroom in Los Angeles.
  • Offers no-cost dental clinic in Anaheim, where students gain experience by offering a selection of free dental services.
  • Involved in philanthropy, through partnerships with several organizations, such as the California Institute for Nursing and Healthcare (CINHC) and Shriner’s Hospital.
  • Accredited by The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission.
  • Has 4 California campuses and 2 other campuses in Florida and Texas.
camnpus icon
Request Info

We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Physical Therapist.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.

Back to Top