Physical therapists can be found in hospitals, community agencies, state facilities, nursing homes, schools, and non-profit organizations.
Physical therapists primarily work on impairments such as decreased range of motion, coordination, strength, mobility, seating and positioning ability.
This means work with all joints in the body to assist in better quality movement and the appropriate sequence of movement patterns to prevent further injury.
Mobility is one of the primary aspects of physical therapy’s scope of practice, meaning impaired mobility is commonly an impairment in patients seeking physical therapy.
The main difference between physical therapists and physical therapy assistants is that physical therapy assistants cannot complete evaluations, as this is a duty delegated only to physical therapists. Otherwise, both professionals can choose specialties, treat patients, and work in the same settings.
Duties of physical therapists
Duties of physical therapists and physical therapy assistants include completing evaluations determining a patient’s physical abilities, weaknesses, personal needs, and support systems, developing a plan with goals for patients to achieve by the end of their stay in the facility, treatment (usually daily, depending on the setting) addressing weaknesses in the areas of range of motion, strength, coordination, walking, self-positioning, and moving from one position to another, and providing input on patient’s readiness for discharge and transition to another level of care (listed above).
Program for physical therapist
Similar to the other disciplines discussed here, the current academic program for physical therapists does not allow the option of specialization so graduates enter the field as general practitioners.
Physical therapists who enter school at the present day are required to receive a Doctorate of Physical Therapy in order to receive a position in the field, as this is the current mandate.
There are specialty certification exams physical therapists and physical therapy assistants can take to receive additional specialization, and unofficial specialties can be received by demonstrating expertise after a certain number of years in a certain practice area.
Some specialty areas which physical therapists and physical therapy assistants can work in once they gain experience include:
- Neurological rehabilitation
- Orthopedic rehabilitation
- Sports medicine
- Women’s health
- Strength and conditioning
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation
While a Doctorate of Physical Therapy is now required to enter the profession, there are still practitioners with a Master’s in Physical Therapy who were grandfathered in.
Some of these practitioners have since gone back to school for their Doctorate of Physical Therapy, but it is not a requirement for those who have graduated with a Master’s in Physical Therapy before the mandate was issued.
Physical therapy doctorate programs
Physical therapy doctorate programs last for 3 years when enrolled full-time. This is in addition to the undergraduate degree in a related field required for admission.
Courses include anatomy, kinesiology, medical management, disease prevention, health promotion, evaluation methods, laws and regulations, and public policy, among others. This includes 4 fieldwork rotations to be completed on a full-time or part-time basis as part of the graduate program.
Physical therapy assistant programs last for 2 years when enrolled full-time, which will provide you with an Associate’s Degree in Physical Therapy. Courses include basic anatomy and kinesiology, treatment methods, and medical conditions. This includes 1 fieldwork rotation to be completed on a full-time or part-time basis. As with occupational therapy programs, there are additional fieldwork opportunities throughout semesters where students will observe a currently working physical therapist or physical therapy assistant one day per week.
There has been talk of an increase in education required for physical therapy assistants, but no changes to the required curriculum have been made at this time. As with those practitioners who hold a Master’s in Physical Therapy and are currently working in their field, there will be no requirements for currently working therapists or therapy assistants to receive another degree.
Physical therapist Salary
Physical therapy assistants make an estimated $53,000 annually and physical therapists make an estimated $84,000 annually, with slight variations across states and practice settings.