become a physical therapist

What does a Physical Therapist (PT) do?

A physical therapist (also called PTs), specialize in physiotherapy, also known as physical therapy. A physical therapist helps people of all ages to rehabilitate injuries focused on the musculoskeletal system. They diagnose, treat, and provide holistic care of patients who have physical or physiological problems. The conditions they treat range from impairments, deformities, physical ailments, disabilities to emergency needs which are purely physical in nature.

Watch a video to learn what a physical therapist does.

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How to Become a Physical Therapist

To become a physical therapist, you must graduate with a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. The DPT degree is the most accepted qualification for a professional to become a physical therapist. Not every physical therapist is a doctor; the doctorate degree requirement to practice is fairly new and some physical therapists may still practice with a master’s degree.

Some health care centers accept people with other degrees in medical science to become an associate or an assistant to a physical therapist. However, no other degree than one in physical therapy would be acknowledged for anyone to become a physical therapist.

Job Description of a Physical Therapist

Usually, a physical therapist would deal with musculoskeletal problems but not those that have correlated venous problems or conditions of the nerves. Physical problems such as skeletal injury, muscular cramps, physical impairments (including all types of physiological disabilities), and all kinds of diagnosis, treatment, and care pertaining to these conditions fall within the purview of a physical therapist.

A physical therapist may recommend appropriate medications and offer emergency and long term therapies. A physical therapist may also offer his or her expertise to other doctors in complicated cases that involve surgery or intensive operations. A physical therapist may also have his or her own practice, work for a healthcare center, or at a public or private hospital. A physical therapist may also cater to sportspersons and athletes.

Watch a video from physical therapist serving in the United States military:

Physical Therapist Career Video Transcript

People recovering from accidents or disease, or who just want to stay active as they age, call on the skills of a physical therapist to help them manage their pain, grow stronger, and become more mobile. Physical therapists, also called PTs, work with people of all ages who have pain or limitations from a variety of sources, including injuries, amputations, strokes, or illness.

Physical therapists design an individualized plan for each patient using exercises, stretching, massage, and hands-on therapy. They also teach patients to use equipment like canes or prosthetics. They always review a patients’ medical history before making a plan, then track patients’ progress during the course of treatment.

Educating patients and their families about what to expect from the recovery process is a critical part of this job. Physical therapists work on a team of health care professionals and oversee the work of physical therapy aides and assistants. They work in clinics, hospitals, home health care, and nursing homes, and may specialize in areas like pediatrics or sports medicine. Lifting and moving people and heavy objects are all part of the day’s work. To enter this career, you will need a Doctorate of Physical Therapy and a state-issued license.

This field provides the deeply satisfying experience of helping people to regain abilities they have lost, manage pain, and live their lives more fully. Produced by CareerOneStop. CareerOneStop is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

Military Physical Therapist Career Video Transcript

[Lieutenant Mike Marmolejo is interviewed. He is a Physical Therapist stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.]

If you find you love the sciences and you love sports, physical therapy is a great combination of both. At the beginning of the day, we come in, get our patient lists and go throughout the hospitals. We see a large variety of patients and do anything from getting them walking again, getting them in and out of bed, getting them into a chair, doing exercises with them. We want to have the patient be as functional as possible before they go home.

A typical day in the office for me is actually really fun. I don’t have to sit at a computer all day. I actually get to work with my patients, almost doing like fitness with them, just to get them better. I have the honor and privilege of working with these wounded warriors and they come in with different injuries. A lot of them with amputations to their legs or to their arms. My job is to help them learn how to walk again, learn how to do activities they used to do on a normal daily basis that they can’t do right now, for example walking or running.

To challenge their balance a little bit we put them on foam pads and have them walk on uneven surfaces and that’s just gonna help them walk better on a harder surface.

[A patient is interviewed] I can see but I can’t feel so now that’s kinda like the trade-off that I have now. I can see it but it does me no good because I can’t really feel, I can’t make adjustments. And then the last exercise we did was a seated balance football toss for them to get again a core workout, working on their abdominal strength but it’s also to add some fun.

[Barri Schnall, Physical Therapist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is interviewed] Gaits are basically your walking pattern. What we do here primarily is evaluate people’s walking patterns. We have a 27 camera system that sees reflective markers. The reflective markers are placed, essentially from head to toe on the patient. What that does is creates a stick figure on our computer monitor. That gives us our raw data.

We review the data with the patient and the information we get is all about the time-distance aspects of their walking, so how fast they, how wide apart their feet are, how long their steps are. Some people have likened it to a Wii on steroids. It’s a virtual environment where the patient can either drive a scene, or interact with the scene. The problem is we make it difficult, we can add waves and motion to the platform, so it makes it challenging on your balance and it’s really kind of a fun way to get to do your rehab.

[Back to Lieutenant Mike Marmolejo]

I’d like to say I have the best job in the world, to be honest with you. To come in every day and play and see the smiles on these guys faces. To see where they started and to see where they end up it’s just so

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physical Therapists.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1123.00. O*NET OnLine.

The top career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

The career video is in the Public Domain and originally hosted on which is now, an interagency product administered by USAGov, a division of the U.S. General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Service.

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