By: Katie, PT, DPT
What is a physical therapist (PT)?
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapists are "movement experts who optimize quality of life through prescribed exercises, hands-on care, and patient education." As PTs we help people of all ages, from newborn kiddos to the elderly, to improve their ability to move and perform functional activities throughout their daily routine that may have been diminished due to an injury or medical condition. By examining and assessing patients, we create a plan using treatment techniques (e.g. prescribing exercise, manual techniques, and patient education) to help reduce pain, prevent loss of mobility, restore function and help to prevent disability.¹
One of the great things about being a physical therapist is that you can choose from a variety of settings to work in! Physical therapists can work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, inpatient rehabilitation, skilled nursing facilities, home health, schools, hospice care, industrial/workplace/occupational health, fitness/sports centers, and as educators and researchers. So as a PT, you have so many opportunities to find your niche and work in a setting as I get to work with individuals young and old, treat orthopedic injuries/medical conditions and work with athletes!
What are the requirements to become a PT?
If you decide you want to become a physical therapist prepare yourself to spend quite a bit of time getting education...but I promise, it's worth it! At this time, in order to become a physical therapist you need to graduate with a Bachelor's degree, then go on to graduate school and receive a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. There are currently over 250 accredited professional PT programs in the United States. Most DPT programs are 3 years, with a primary content area focused in biology/anatomy, cellular histology, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, pharmacology, pathology, behavioral sciences, communication, ethics/values, management sciences, clinical reasoning, evidence-based practice, cardiovascular and pulmonary, endocrine, and musculoskeletal. DPT curriculum consists of both classroom/lab study and clinical education. Once you graduate with your DPT degree, you do have to take the NPTE (National Physical Therapy Examination) and pass in order to become a licensed physical therapist.²
Why did you want to become a PT?
I wanted to be a physical thearpist for a few different reasons. Growing up, I saw my grandparents go to physical therapy for multiple reasons and saw how much they benefited from PT. So the geriatric population holds a special place in my heart. Additionally, I played sports growing up, and still love sports, so I knew I wanted to work with athletes. Physical therapists are an integral part in getting athletes back to their sport after an injury. Finally, since taking my first anatomy and physiology class in high school, I was fascinated with the human body and still to this day love learning about it. Physical therapy was the perfect way for me to be able to put my interests and my want to help others into a meaningful career!
What do you love most about your job?
The thing I love most about my job is how rewarding it is on a daily basis. Being able to help people improve their quality of life, whether that means returning to their favorite sport after an injury, reducing pain that keeps someone from spending time with their family, or getting someone back to walking after a joint replacement. Being able to have a small part in making someone's life a little bit better is what makes the job so special!