When someone says, “physical therapy,” what image comes to mind? Some people may picture a professional athlete recovering from an injury. Others may think of a high school football player who suffered a season-ending injury in a game. Still, others may think of a relative or friend who suffers from arthritis, back pain, or some chronic disease or condition.
As the population ages and more people are diagnosed with chronic illnesses, the physical therapy (PT) profession will grow. So, asking the question is physical therapy a good career choice only makes sense.
The field of physical therapy is a large and ever-growing one, and it’s not hard to see why. If you have a knack for helping people, have an interest in healthcare, and enjoy helping others, becoming a physical therapist, a physical therapist assistant, or a physical therapist aide may be the perfect career for you.
Physical therapy professionals work together on a team helping patients who have suffered injuries or are experiencing physical problems. They help them to deal with those problems through rehabilitation plans involving exercise, strength training, and a variety of other physical therapy treatments.
Do you want to help people and get paid for it? If so, then physical therapy may be the career for you.
As a physical therapist, assistant, or aide, your goal will be to provide patients with injury or illness with the best possible outcomes, and by doing so you will also be helping to keep your community healthy.
Also, physical therapy professionals are paid very competitive salaries and earn more than many other allied health professionals.
If helping people and earning a great salary isn’t enough, then it is worth noting that Physical Therapy ranks as one of the most satisfying careers repeatedly by career satisfaction rankings surveys.
Let’s go over some of the reasons why physical therapy is a good career choice and some of the career path options you have within the field of PT. You can use the table of contents below to jump around to the different sections on this page.
Why Physical Therapy is a Good Career?
Many individuals want to know why physical therapy is such a good career and what career benefits can be expected. Career benefits can range from steady employment to the ability to work in different settings or having a flexible schedule. But they don’t stop there, there are many benefits and perks that make it great to work in the field of physical therapy.
Here are some of the main benefits to working in PT:
- Very competitive salaries compared to other healthcare professions
- Many career advancement opportunities, start as an Aide out of high school and advance to an Assistant or Licensed Physical Therapist after getting associates, bachelors and doctorate degrees.
- Satisfying role helping patients improve their lives, as you watch patients progress you can help but feel the ultimate reward of improving the lives of other people.
- Many different work settings, types of patients, and opportunities such as traveling PT, at-home healthcare, military opportunities, working with sports teams and more.
Many people who have been injured or are experiencing chronic pain are finding that they need to get help from physical therapists in order to get their lives back on track.
These people are learning that physical therapists can not only help you physically, but also guide you through the emotional process of dealing with a physical injury or chronic pain that limits your daily life, and help you get back to doing your everyday activities in life.
Given that many people are discovering that physical therapy can be a positive part of their treatment, more and more people are beginning to consider a physical therapy career as a great way to help people and make a positive difference in their lives.
You’ll find that the physical therapy career isn’t as monotonous as you might expect. Each day is different and you will always be working with new patients.
Next, we will breakdown a career in physical therapy by the different positions that you can work in and go over each one in detail:
- Physical Therapist Aide
- Physical Therapist Assistant
- Physical Therapist
We will start with a Physical Therapist Assistant and then compare that to an Aide before moving onto a Physical Therapist career.
Is a Physical Therapy Assistant a Good Career
The physical therapist assistant offers a rewarding career that allows you to help people live healthy, active lives.
Physical therapy assistants are an important part of any physical therapy clinic. Without them, the clinic would not be able to operate effectively.
The physical therapy assistant is responsible for assisting the physical therapist in all aspects of patient care.
These responsibilities include:
- Helping the therapist with patient assessment
- Performing patient exercises
- Maintaining the treatment equipment
- Recording patient progress and making plan modifications
- Various administrative tasks during patient visits
The responsibilities of a physical therapist assistant vary depending on the state in which they are working, the physical therapy practitioner they are working for, and the hospital or clinical setting in which they are working in.
Physical therapy assistants work under the supervision of a physical therapist, performing a variety of tasks, from helping patients with gait training and ambulating to cleaning up and transporting equipment. These tasks may vary, depending on the setting and the physical therapist’s treatment plan.
A physical therapist assistant (PTA) is a licensed healthcare professional who helps patients recover from injuries, disease, and other physical impairments by providing physical therapy treatments.
These professionals are essential members of the PT team, providing support for physical therapy treatments and helping to ensure the safety of patients.
Job Duties include:
- Assist the physical therapist in providing treatment to patients
- Assist the physical therapist in performing tests and evaluations on patients
- Administer physical therapy treatments, such as stretching, therapeutic massage, skin preparation, and hands-on physical therapy.
- Help patients with their home exercise programs and provide advice on how to prevent future physical problems
The field of physical therapy is in need of qualified professionals at all levels of experience. In fact, there were 140,800 physical therapist assistants and aides in 2021 with expected growth of 24% through 2031. Although the titles are closely related, an assistant and an aide have different jobs, which can affect the education required to get started working in the field.
Comparison of Physical Therapist Assistants to Physical Therapist Aides
Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant is a step that can be taken after becoming an aide, and before becoming a Physical Therapist.
Similarities between PT Assistants and Aides include:
A physical therapist assistant and a physical therapist aide have very similar tasks and goals. Both are responsible for helping their patients gain mobility. Both will spend time working closely with patients to identify their goals and teach them how to achieve those goals. Both will also spend time educating patients about healthy living habits, including good nutrition and how to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives.
Both are paid competitive healthcare salaries.
Differences between PT Assistants and Aides include:
The duties and responsibilities of a physical therapist aide are not as broad as that of the physical therapist assistant. Like PT Assistants, physical therapist aides also work under the direction of a licensed physical therapist but they may also work underneath a PT Assistant in some cases. Although they assist with treatment to the patient, Aide’s duties are more limited than Assistants’ duties. They also help the physical therapist with preparing the patient for treatment, transporting the patient or assisting in the delivery of treatment, and completing administrative tasks. But many of their tasks are not directly related to patient care and instead are more focused on organizational and managerial areas of the clinic they work in.
For this reason, Aides require less Physical Therapy training to gain employment than Assistants.
If these physical therapy careers sound interesting to you then you will want to read, Should I Become a Physical Therapist Assistant or Aide? and also What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
Now that we have compared physical therapy assistants with physical therapy aides, let’s move on to the final career in physical therapy: a Physical Therapist.
Is a Physical Therapist a Good Career?
Physical therapy is an officially licensed health profession that has been around for many years. The primary goal of a physical therapist is to help people regain and maintain their mobility, while also preventing injury and pain.
Although physical therapists are health care professionals, they do not diagnose conditions or prescribe medication; their focus is on treating people with injury or illness—helping them to get back in shape.
Research shows that people who receive physical therapy report fewer disabilities and are less likely to be rehospitalized than people who do not have physical therapy. As a result, physical therapy is prescribed by more than 50% of medical doctors.
Physical Therapy is in high demand and growing as the baby boomer generation ages requiring more PT services. This career has many benefits beyond job growth and below is a career summary of facts from the BLS.
|Quick Facts: Physical Therapists|
|2019 Median Pay||$89,440 per year|
$43.00 per hour
|Typical Entry-Level Education||Doctoral or professional degree|
|Work Experience in a Related Occupation||None|
|Number of Jobs, 2019||258,200|
|Job Outlook, 2019-29||18% (Much faster than average)|
|Employment Change, 2019-29||47,000|
Compared to other healthcare salaries, Physical Therapists are paid very well at just under $90,000 median annually. Demand in the profession and job growth statistics are also very high being rated as “Much faster than average” by the BLS. Unemployment in the profession is extremely low at just over 1%.
Beyond even these awesome numbers are the career satisfaction numbers published by USNews.com, Physical Therapy Careers rank as follows:
- #11 in Best Health Care Jobs (Physical Therapist)
- #13 in 100 Best Jobs (Physical Therapist Assistant)
- #21 in 100 Best Jobs (Physical Therapist)
That is pretty impressive, PT jobs are rated extremely high amongst ALL professions AND health care professions.
As you can see, based on the data, a career in physical therapy is a good career. It will be secure, pay well, reward you, and most likely leave you feeling satisfied with your career choice helping a wide variety of patients.
Becoming a Physical Therapist
If you’re considering becoming a physical therapist, then you likely have questions about a DPT Program.
Learning how to become a physical therapist leads to a rewarding career, but it isn’t easy.
You may want to start as an Aide or an Assistant and then complete a PTA to PT bridge program to become a Physical Therapist. Or you may opt to go through all of the schooling requirements first, completing your bachelor’s and doctorate degrees alongside clinical training through a DPT Program.
Regardless, you will have multiple options to complete your physical therapy degree and clinical education and become a physical therapist.
Regardless of which career path you choose, you will have so many options for places that you can work and the types of patients you can work with. So, physical therapists have many rewarding options for making their careers unique.
What do Physical Therapists Do?
Physical Therapists primarily focus on three areas of clinical practice:
- Examining patients conditions
- Giving diagnosis to patients
- Developing and carrying out a therapy plan
Most licensed PTs work in hospitals, private clinics, or in schools. Some physical therapists are sports medicine specialists and work with athletes to help them recover from injuries.
Others work with people who have disabilities. Some physical therapists work with people who have chronic conditions, such as poor circulation, chronic back pain, arthritis, or neurological disorders.
At the end of the day, all Physical Therapists have the same basic objectives but in a wide variety of different clinical settings and with a wide variety of types of patients. Their primary objectivs are to evaluate patients and assess a therapy treatment plan to rehabilitate them from injuries or chronic and other health conditions. Patients age may range from pediatric age all the way to geriatric.
Responsibilities of a Physical Therapist
Physical therapists provide many kinds of treatment to promote recovery from injury, illness, or disability.
They help people with physical problems, such as back pain or a knee injury. They also help people improve their physical abilities.
Physical therapists are not the same as physical therapy assistants. Physical therapy assistants help with treatment under the supervision of a licensed Physical Therapist but cannot diagnose or treat independently.
Physical therapists assess a person’s ability to move and perform daily activities. They talk to the person and evaluate how well the body works and how far the person can walk, sit, lift, and bend.
Physical therapists use hands-on therapy to treat and help prevent injuries and improve movement, strength, and flexibility. They also use various types of treatment, including exercise and other activities to help people recover.
So, is Physical Therapy a Good Career?
You have probably heard the old saying: if you love what you do then you never work a day in your life. Well, this statement can also be applied to your career.
If you are doing a job that you love, then you are never going to feel like it’s work. What if you could turn your passion into a career? Cross that off your list of things to do!
Whatever your reasons for considering a career in physical therapy, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.
Here are some of the pros to working in a physical therapy career:
- Competitive Salary: PT Professionals are in the top health care earners
- Good Work/Life Balance: They enjoy flexible schedules
- Variety of Work Settings: They can work in many different types of work settings
- In-Demand Occupation: It is one of the fastest-growing career fields
- Health and Fitness: Working in Physical Therapy tends to keep you fit and healthy
- Medical Knowledge: PT Professionals know the human body better than anyone else and their knowledge is very practical
- Job Satisfaction: The job satisfaction ratings are extremely high for this very rewarding career helping people
We all know physical therapy is a great career choice but is it right for you? It is important to understand all of the factors we discussed and take a look at what other people say about their careers in Physical Therapy.
You may also want to consider a career in occupational therapy. Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapist Assistants are similar types of health care professionals to PT professionals.