Most people, including myself when I was younger, pictured a physical therapist
massaging and helping people walk again only. In a study done in recent years, the
Department of Physical Therapy of Nova Southern University, Florida, revealed that the
general public does not understand the roles of a physical therapist and the direct access
they have. They are seen as the chiropractioners, which are completely different from
physical therapists. The images I had are not entirely dissimilar from the reality of being
a physical therapist, but I have learned from mentors and friends working in the field that
there is a more than what others believe to be true. Assisting patients in walking is only a
small portion of the responsibilities they hold. It takes more than a degree and a state
license to become a respectable physical therapist.
First, to become a physical therapist requires a master’s degree and a state license.
There are 43 accredited programs that offer master’s degree and 166 that offer doctoral
degrees. A doctoral degree is optional. For most of the programs, work experience,
whether volunteer or paid, is required in order to be admitted. For example, California
State University of Long Beach’s Department of Physical Therapy requires 100-200
hours of work in any of the areas: rehabilitation, geriatric, pediatric, or acute and general
hospital. Another requirement into an accredited physical therapy program would be a
bachelor’s degree in any major; biology is preferred though. The undergraduate courses
that will need to be completed include basic biology, chemistry, and physics. Once
admitted into the program, specialized courses on diagnosing, treatments, charting, etc
will be completed. A master’s degree program usually takes about 2 years to finish, while
a doctoral degree program takes about 3 years. After graduating from the accredited
program, a national and state license test must be taken. Both must be passed in order to
be allowed to practice. Many states also required that physical therapists continue taking
educational courses and workshops to sustain knowledge and learn new skills and
In addition to a state license and a master’s degree, a physical therapist must
possess a desire to help others, compassion, patience, emotional stability, and strong
interpersonal skills. Compassion is the key motivation factor. To whole heartedly treat
patients and work with them requires the desire to help patients improve their lives and
achieve their goals. True compassion will also be perceivable by the patients, and once
they know a therapist sincerely cares, they will not be apathetic to treatments and
Patience. Every person I have discussed or talked with has mentioned the
importance of patience working as a physical therapist. All patients come from a different
background and therefore have a variety of psychological make-ups. In our interview,
Annie Tsui stated that physical therapists need to take the time to be acquainted with their
patients and understand where they’re coming from and how to best handle them. Many
patients will be stubborn and unwilling to cooperate, therefore physical therapists must be
prepared to continue working with patients and encourage them. As Annie Tsui, also
said, “You must be patient and have compassion on your patients. Many times, they get
tired easily, cranky, or just refuse to be helped. You must find a way to help them learn to
work with disabilities and even counsel them sometimes. Sometimes the patients may
even view you as God, but you must know your own limitations in order to help them to
the best of your ability.” Because of patients’ different backgrounds, getting connected
with them and securing their trust will involve patience. Certain patients have a tendency
to be cynical and distrusting, while others will cooperate immediately.
Emotional stability is essential for physical therapists because it can become
stressful at times, especially if patients are not cooperating. “Because the therapist’s life
is usually busy to the point of hectic, and decision making is a constant and ongoing
responsibility, he or she must be able to act quickly. There is no time for meditation.”
(Krumhansl, 5) Patients can be frustrating to work with at times or serious cases may be
burdensome, so physical therapists should be able to tolerate high amounts of stress and
pressure in order to be efficient.
Last but not least, in order to connect with patients, physical therapists must have
good social skills. They need to be able to talk to patients so that patients will be more
disposed to cooperating. If a patient does not feel they can trust the physical therapist,
they are less likely to put in any effort in treatments or exercises.
On average, physical therapists work 40 hours per week, eight hours a day. This is
a big advantage compared to other medical field workers who usually have to work 12
hour shifts. Those that work in hospitals though will usually work some weekends.
Unless a physical therapist works in a home healthcare service, there is no need to travel.
A home healthcare physical therapist will only need to travel to patients’ homes; however
the patients’ homes are usually within the physical therapist’s vicinity. Physical therapists
generally work in hospitals or private clinics. However, many also work in health care
facilities, rehabilitation facilities, outpatient care centers, nursing care facilities, and in
offices of doctors. Workplaces may also depend on specialization of physical therapy, i.e.
pediatrics, neurological, sports, geriatric, or orthopedic. Each of these specializations of
physical therapy requires different settings and equipment.
Pediatrics physical therapists work primarily with infants and children, detecting
any early signs of health problems and diagnosing disorders. Neurological physical
therapists focus on patients who have a neurological disorder or disease, for example,
Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s, ALS, and
stroke. Sports physical therapists work with athletes, treat their injuries, and train them to
play with the least risk of hurting themselves. Geriatric physical therapists cover a wider
range of patients; however, they concentrate more on the elderly and the problems that
are acquired at old age, such as arthritis, hip and joint displacement, and stroke.
Orthopedic physical therapists work with patients that have musculoskeletal (bones,
joints, muscles, and ligaments) injuries and disorders. All these different areas of physical
therapy deal with different types of diseases, disorders, and people. However, these
specialized areas all strive toward the same goal, which is to teach patients how to work
with their disabilities and dysfunctions of the body. Altogether, physical therapists are to
assist patients in living a life as normal as possible, despite their limitations.
Fortunately, physical therapists are needed in every part of the world. Currently,
there is a shortage of physical therapists in United States alone. The employment of
physical therapists is estimated to soar over the next few years. One of the biggest factors
of this rise in demand for physical therapists is because new techniques and treatments
are discovered every year, which expands the horizon of physical therapy practices.
Another contributing factor is that people will continually be injured at work, in
accidents, grow old, etc. While there are people getting injured, the need for physical
therapists will always be present. Job prospects will always be good, especially in
hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.
The average wage of a physical therapist is around $66,000. It may be a little
lower or higher depending on the job location, type of workplace, specialization, and the
years of service. According to the statistics done in 2006, the highest paid physical
therapists are the ones that work in home health care services, earning $70,920 annually.
They are the ones that go to their patients’ houses to treat them and do check-ups. The
second highest paid physical therapist, earning $68,650 a year, work in nursing care
facilities. Those that work in hospitals are paid about $66,630 a year. Physical therapists
that work in offices of other physicians or private clinics are the lowest paid of all,
earning about $65,700 a year. At $65,700 a year, they have a living wage. According to
the living wage calculator at http://www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/, a single physical
therapist living in Arcadia would need a gross annual income of $21,139 to have housing,
transportation, food, medical, and other expenses covered. Even with two adults and two
kids in a family, the gross annual income needed is $54,575 combined from both adults.
Therefore, a physical therapist with the lowest salary will still be able to live without any
financial deficiencies. Career advancement mostly depends on specialization. A
specialized physical therapist would be higher up the ladder because of their extra
concentrated education. Physical therapists could also become supervisors over others.
Some, who work in a private clinic, could work towards the position of chief physical
therapist. If any physical therapist wishes to progress in their career, it is certainly doable.
There is one disadvantage though that many physical therapists, including my
interviewee, have expressed. As a physical therapist, many times lifting and supporting a
patient is necessary. It is generally not a difficulty for physical therapists until they reach
an age where their bodies are also becoming weaker. For many people, like Annie Tsui, it
occurs around their late forties. It becomes harder for them to do the manual labor
physical therapists are expected to do. Many physical therapists begin to experience their
own back pains due to excessive lifting. My interviewee, Annie Tsui, who used to work
in a hospital, said that due to back pains from years of supporting patients during their
treatments has caused her to cut down on her work and become a part time worker. She
had added that being physically fit is more essential for those that work in the inpatient
unit, which is in hospitals. Those that work in the hospital usually have go all around the
hospital to different rooms and areas of the hospital. In addition, they also need to do the
lifting and supporting of patients. In other types of offices, though, for example private
clinics or outpatient clinics, heavy lifting is rare.
My perceptions of physical therapy initially before this research project are pretty
similar to what I have found doing this research project. What I had learned from my
mentor and professional friends previous to this research project is almost the same to
what I have read and gathered from my research. The piece of information that was
completely new to me though was the disadvantage of being a physical therapy. I had not
known that the lifting in physical therapy could cause any damage. Researching for this
project has only caused my aspiration to become a physical therapy grow.
I had thought of being a physical therapist since the beginning of my junior year. I
knew that I was a very sociable person and I had a strong desire to help people. Besides
having the desire to help people, I also have a great deal of patience and I love
encouraging individuals to reach for the highest. Of course I had given being a physician
or a nurse a thought; however, I realized that the work hours were not suitable if I wanted
to be have time with my future family. I then looked into physical therapy which is the
occupation of my mentor and a family friend. Although it’s a different path in the
medical field, physical therapy still encompasses what I looked for in a career. It will
allow me to make use of my desire to help those in need and the compassion I have for
people in general. Having shadowed a physical therapist before has also influenced my
decision. After observing a day out of physical therapists’ life, I can envision myself in
her shoes, doing the same tasks, showing the same attention and care to a patient, and
encouraging everyone to do what may seem impossible to them.
Salaries have never been a factor in choosing my career. I believe entirely that it
is more important to choose a job I will love going to even after 30 years than a job that
will pay me thousands. Besides, the median wage for physical therapists will permit me
to live comfortably even with a family. The usual work hours are also exactly what I wish
for in a job. An 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job would allow me to raise a family in the future and be
a constant figure in my future children’s life. An 8-5 job would give me time to rest and
prepare for another day of work too. Moreover, my schedule would be stable, not
differing week to week.
To achieve my goal of becoming a physical therapist, I will be attending
California State University, Long Beach for undergraduate and graduate studies. For my
undergraduate studies, I will be majoring in Biology, hopefully finishing all my
prerequisites to the physical therapy program and general education classes within 3
years. After completing all the necessary prerequisite classes, I will apply to the
accredited Master’s in Physical Therapy program that is also offered at CSULB. The
average student at CSULB takes 2-3 years to finish and graduate from the program. I do
plan to specialize in pediatrics though because I am very fond of little children.
Luckily, I will not have to be concerned about finding a job upon graduating from the
master’s physical therapy program and passing my state and license tests. As stated
earlier, job prospects are good presently and are expected to rise in the next few years. I
have faith that my desire to help others live a better life will keep me motivated even
after working 30 years. As a physical therapist, I would be able to meet a variety of
people and it should keep my job interesting.
I have definitely gained much knowledge about a career as in physical therapy
from this research project, my interviewee, and my professional friends. With my new
findings, I have a broader image of what physical therapy entails. A physical therapist
helps patients suffering from disease or injuries improve mobility, relieve pain, increase
strength, and decrease or prevent deformity, with love and patience.