Physical Therapists (PTs) represent a group of healthcare professionals who help patients with mobility problems. Root causes of the patients' condition may be a stroke, a bone fracture, burns, multiple sclerosis, or other. The PT starts with an assessment of the patient to understand how limited the individual may be with performing some movement. The PT then derives a diagnosis and a strategic plan composed of a series of treatments aimed at progressively regaining muscle control and agilty of movement.
Students who graduated from college can attend one of 213 accredited physical therapy programs, approved by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and become a physical therapist. These schools allow them to graduate with either master’s or doctoral degrees in physical therapy after two and three years of study respectively.
The accredited schools use a central submission website, the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service, to gather all the applications. This common point of access makes the application practical for students submitting material to several of the schools. Entrance requirements include a bachelor’s degree with a GPA at least above 2.8, according to the Samuel Merritt University (SMU). All applicants must take the GRE and score 450 or above for the verbal tests and 500 and above for the other parts of the exam to get into SMU. Volunteer or paid time exceeding forty hours of physical therapy work in a hospital or clinic must be shown on the application and the submission of an essay concludes the process.
The coursework of the accredited physical therapy programs follows the requirements set by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). This organization defines a clear set of skills and knowledge that PTs must demonstrate upon graduation from the programs. The CAPTE programs cover the fundamentals of body functions and include anatomy, biomechanics and physiology. The curriculum expands with information about illnesses and muscular dysfunctions. The coursework discusses neuroscience and radio imaging techniques. Professors teach the art of physical examination and explore all possible therapy options through classes and hands-on experience under the supervision of professionals.
Physical therapists must receive a license to practice in all the U.S. States. Each state may have slightly different requirements. However, they tend to request a degree from one of the CAPTE programs, a successful score from the National Physical Therapy Examination and passing grade from some jurisprudence exams. The license must be maintained through continuing education.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the median compensation at $72,790 for a fulltime PT position in 2008. Incomes tend to be higher in home health or nursing care facilities. Peak salaries exceed $104,350. In the United States, 185,000 professionals share the role of physical therapist, 60 percent working in hospitals or clinics. Typically, a PT will work 40 hour a week jobs during normal daytime hours. A PT may also offer evening or weekend hours to accommodate patient’s schedules.
- American Physical Therapy Association: Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education
- Minimum Required Skills of Physical Therapist Graduates at Entry Level (.PDF)
- American Physical Therapy Association: Number of Accredited PT programs
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition: Physical Therapists
- Samuel Merritt University: DPT Program Admission
- Massage therapist carrying out a Thai body massage. image by Deborah Benbrook from Fotolia.com