Delving Into the Physical Therapy Major
A graduate degree is required for a career in physical therapy. All physical therapy candidates must receive a graduate degree from an accredited program before they can take the national licensure exam that allows them to practice. Physical therapists have a highly-specialized education to help people restore and improve mobility.
Online physical therapy degrees can prepare students for the expanding medical field in terms of providing a basis for understanding theory, medical terminology, work culture, best practices, and even hands-on training. A rising number of programs now offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Students who wish to pursue an education in physical therapy have a wide array of programs to choose from. There are nearly 200 colleges and universities nationwide that support 212 accredited professional physical therapist education programs, according to the American Physical Therapy Association.
Physical therapist curriculum will vary from program to program, but the coursework typically include basic science courses, such as biology, anatomy, physiology, cellular histology, exercise physiology, neuroscience, biomechanics, pharmacology, pathology, and radiology/imaging. Physical therapy curriculum may also include behavioral science courses, such as clinical reasoning and evidence-based practice.
The primary goal of the first two years of education in this field is to prepare students for an advanced program. A graduate degree is the minimum requirement those who wish to practice in the field of physical therapy, so students at this level are concerned with meeting bachelor’s admission requirements while delving into introductory health care courses.
Introductory level students will take classes in biology, psychology, composition, math, pharmacology, statistics and a variety of other behavioral and social sciences. Associate degree holders may gain employment as PT assistants and occupational therapist aides.
Among the bachelor’s degree level courses that are useful to a physical therapy education are anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics, social science, mathematics, and statistics. Statistics is a requirement for students who wish to pursue a career in physical therapy.
Another course common in pre-physical therapy programs at this level is kinesiology. This is where students learn about the typical functions and uses of the body and its limitations. Before granting admission, many programs require volunteer experience in the physical therapy department of a hospital or clinic.
A master’s degree is the minimum requirement to practice physical therapy. While online master’s degree programs are still rare, many colleges and universities offer online plus classroom hybrids.
Some of the clinically-based courses include medical screening, examination tests and measures, diagnostic process, therapeutic interventions, outcomes assessment, and practice management. In addition to laboratory instruction, students will receive supervised clinical experience.
Primary content areas in the curriculum may include, but are not limited to, biology/anatomy, cellular histology, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, pathology, behavioral sciences, communication, ethics/values, management sciences, finance, sociology, clinical reasoning, evidence-based practice, cardiovascular and pulmonary, endocrine and metabolic, and musculoskeletal.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), by 2020, physical therapy will be provided by those who are doctors of Physical Therapy. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics further states that in the near future, doctorate degrees might be a required entry-level degree for physical therapists.
Supplementing Your Physical Therapy Major
Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, ranging from hospitals and home health agencies to schools and fitness clubs. They work in outpatient services, rehabilitation centers, acute care, nursing homes, research centers, wellness centers, and hospice.
State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Upon graduation and licensure, physical therapists may choose to further their education through clinical residency and/or fellowship residency. Clinical residency is designed to advance the PT’s resident preparation as a patient care provider, while clinical fellowship enable newly minted PTs to demonstrate their clinical practice in a learn-through-experience atmosphere.
Like any other discipline, physical therapists may also have an opportunity to specialize. PTs can become board-certified clinical specialists by building on a broad base of knowledge and developing a greater depth of skills and knowledge related to a particular area. Physical therapists can become board-certified specialists in the following areas: orthopedics, geriatrics, neurology, cardiovascular and pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, pediatrics, women’s health, and sports therapy. Physical therapists should supplement their medical education with strong interpersonal communication skills to make them more desirable in the job market.
Learn More About the Physical Therapy Major
- Best Physical Therapy Schools
- Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy
- American Physical Therapy Association
The Physical Therapy Major in the Job Market
Physical therapists held about 185,000 jobs in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number will continue to rise, judging by the job prospects for physical therapists. The BLS estimates that employment of physical therapists is expected to grow by 30% from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Recent health industry developments, including changes to restrictions on reimbursement for physical therapy services by third-party payers will increase access to services and, thus, increase demand for physical therapists. In addition, the aging population will drive growth in the demand for physical therapy services for the elderly. Senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to chronic and debilitating conditions that require long-term therapeutic services. And, as the baby-boom generation enters the prime age for strokes and heart ailments, the demand for cardiac and physical rehabilitation will continue to grow.
Medical and technological developments will permit a greater percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, thereby creating more demand for rehabilitative care. Licensed physical therapists will be able to find jobs in hospitals, rehab centers, and orthopedic centers, as well as nursing homes and outpatient care facilities.
Those who work with home health services companies will earn the highest salaries, according to the BLS, followed by physical therapists who work in nursing homes and hospitals. PT assistants with associate degrees will also find many employment opportunities. The median salary for a physical therapist is $80,000 depending on position, range of experience, level of education, geographic location, and practice setting.