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,, accessed November 2017
  • Physical Therapist Education Overview, American Physical Therapy Association,, accessed November 2017
  • Physical Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-24 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Physical Therapist Skills

Below are the skills needed to be physical therapist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Reading Comprehension4.124.5
Critical Thinking43.88
Active Listening3.884.12

Physical Therapist Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be physical therapist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Deductive Reasoning44.25
Inductive Reasoning44.38
Oral Comprehension44.38
Oral Expression44.75
Problem Sensitivity44.25

Physical Therapist Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be physical therapist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Medicine and Dentistry4.634.14
Customer and Personal Service4.364.91
Therapy and Counseling4.14.87

Physical Therapist Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being physical therapist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Assisting and Caring for Others4.695.26
Documenting/Recording Information4.624.6
Performing General Physical Activities4.464.42
Making Decisions and Solving Problems4.224.81
Performing for or Working Directly with the Public4.194.42

Physical Therapist Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being physical therapist according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

Work StyleImportance
Concern for Others4.94
Social Orientation4.73
Self Control4.61

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 2019

Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim8,780$98,610
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington4,680$92,960
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach4,000$84,160
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land3,370$85,620
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell3,070$87,710
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward3,050$102,470

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
Please select State, Metro Area 1 and Metro Area 2
Select different Metro Areas

Total employment and salary for professions similar to physical therapists

Source : 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,; O*NET® 24.3 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,

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.