A physical therapist is a health care practitioner who works with patients in order to promote the restoration of mobility, quality of life, and overall physical wellness. Physical therapy is a specialized area within the health care profession. It is the field of medical care which concerns itself with the rehabilitation of the human body following a serious injury or impairment. Health care professionals who work in this sector of the industry are some of the most highly sought after and best compensated individuals in the country.
National Average Physical Therapist Salary
Hourly Wage Annual Wage
Upper: $55.81 $116,090
Median: $39.61 $82,390
Lower: $27.31 $56,800
States With Highest Salary
State Avg. Hourly Wage Avg. Annual Wage
- Nevada $61.49 $127,900
- Alaska $46.32 $96,350
- New Jersey $44.42 $92,380
- California $44.29 $92,120
- Texas $44.02 $91,560
*All statistical data is from the U.S. Department of Labor and is updated quarterly
The main function of a physical therapist is to restore function to injured and impaired individuals as well as reduce any associated pain. They accomplish this by creating a comprehensive rehabilitation plan that is suited to each patient. Every situation is different and the physical therapist must draw upon his training and experience as well as intuition to provide the most appropriate treatment. Patients can be of any age and may require treatment because of injury or debilitation due to a chronic condition.
Physical therapists use a variety of techniques to treat patients. Staying up to date with new treatment methods is vital in order to provide their patients with the most effective treatments.
Common responsibilities include:
- Studying a patients medical history
- Examining patients to determine and diagnose problems
- Developing an individualized treatment plan for each patient
- Communicating with patients to maximize the benefits of a treatment plan
- Prescribing medications as part of treatment
- Utilizing a variety of techniques to treat patients including exercise, physical manipulation, and stretching
- Monitor patients progress and make adjustments to treatment plan as needed
The average physical therapist will work a normal work week of 40 hours. While the overwhelming majority of physical therapy jobs are at hospitals or private clinics, there are many different environments which may require the presence and services of a qualified physical therapist.
These environments may include:
- Traditional inpatient and outpatient health care facilities (hospitals, private clinics, and the like).
- Nursing homes, senior care centers, and other specialized centers for the elderly.
- School or work place environments.
- Education or research centers
- Privately in the home as a hired therapist for private patient care.
- Gym and Fitness centers.
- Training facilities for professional sports teams.
The work environment for a physical therapist will be filled with a variety of devices and gadgets which are used in various capacities, depending on the specific needs of the patient. Items which can be found in the modern physical therapist’s office range from the traditional treadmill, jump rope, and exercise ball to new and seemingly disingenuous items such as Playstation consoles, which are used by an increasing number of therapists as a quick and enjoyable way of strengthening their patients’ basic hand-eye coordination.
Working as a physical therapist can be arduous, therapists spend many hours working on their feet. They also must be able to support a patients wight when moving them or assistant with a therapeutic technique. Anyone with physical limitations, such as back problems, must keep this in mind when deciding on pursuing this career.
Physical Therapist Schools:
There are a growing number of physical therapy schools which students can attend in order to become fully accredited and certified for their chosen profession. The minimum requirement for employment in the field is a Master’s degree from an accredited (state and nationally recognized) educational facility. Depending on the time required to achieve such a degree, the normal training period may last anywhere from 4 to 8 years.
Many universities and all specialized physical therapy schools will offer a Master’s degree in physical therapy. However, a growing number of these institutions will also offer a higher degree, known as the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). This higher degree is becoming more and more accepted and recognized, and may one day be an official requirement.
Physical Therapist Certification And Licensing:
Specific certification and licensing requirements will vary from state to state. However, most states will require specific certification and licensing for all potential seekers of physical therapy positions. This licensing examination will normally be administered by the State Board of Physical Therapy, and will take place following the applicant’s completion of a state recognized educational degree.
In most states, individual certification in a specific domain of physical therapy will not be required. However, if an individual should possess such certification, it may well be an avenue to increased employment opportunities and a higher paying position. All physical therapists are required under state and federal law to complete additional educational programs in order to have their license renewed. The period of renewal will vary by state, but most such renewals will be for two years.
Who Should Become A Physical Therapist?
Individuals who possess excellent “people skills”, such as communication, empathy, and compassion, should certainly consider becoming a physical therapist. Physical therapy jobs are likewise an excellent recommendation for those who enjoy working with the public in an intimate, one on one, capacity.
The need for such individuals is growing as the average age of the American public skews upward, and salaries and job perks are being raised accordingly.
How Much Does A Physical Therapist Make?
As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 200,000 qualified physical therapists are already employed in the United States. The average (mean) physical therapist salary is listed as $83,940 per year, which averages out to a very lucrative $40.35 per hour. Salaries can range from $56,800 for the bottom 10% to $116,090 for those in the 90th percentile. The state with the highest average salary is Nevada with an annual mean salary of $127,900.
Factors That Can Influence Salary:
There are many factors which can positively influence the salary of a licensed physical therapist. Experience will certainly be the most reliable of these. For example, a long serving therapist can become a Director or Supervisor of their department in a hospital or private inpatient facility, or can move into specialized research or educational positions at a major university.
Becoming an expert in a specialized area of physical therapy, such as orthopedics, care of the elderly or children, sports injury rehabilitation, or neurology, will also greatly contribute to increased job security, employment opportunities, and a higher salary. The more specialized training and on the job experience that a physical therapist possesses, the greater their opportunities for future career advancement will be.
There are many careers that have transferable skills for someone interested in becoming a physical therapist. Starting off as a physical therapists assistant can provide an individual with a valuable hands on experience that would help determine if they want to pursue higher education to become a physical therapists. Other careers in the healthcare industry such as nursing, would provide a good background on human physiology for someone entering this field.
For someone who is already a physical therapist and is looking for another career where they can utilize there knowledge, becoming a chiropractor or occupational therapist would be an excellent choice. Of course any necessary schooling along with certification needed for these careers would still have to be completed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for physical therapists will be around 34% from 2014 to 2024. This is well above the 7% average expected for overall job growth in this same period. It also is much higher then the 17% increase predicted for similar healthcare careers. This dramatic increase in jobs is due to an aging population as well as the increase of chronic diseases, such as diabetes.
Physical Therapist Schools
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median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma.*