If you’re thinking about becoming a physical therapist, there are certain points you need to consider in order to make sure that this is the right profession for you. Specifically, there are 4 things you must know about physical therapists before you make up your mind.
Physical therapists, because of the nature of their jobs, work with people experiencing a variety of disabilities and pain. Consequently, those who have trouble seeing others in pain will have a hard time working in this profession. That’s true of most medical professions, but some types of physical therapists work with individuals or groups who may never get better, making those physical therapists – like hospice workers – part of a small group of medical professionals who provide a form of extended palliative care.
That’s never an easy thing to do. And while you are easing the suffering of others, it can lead to early burnout, which commonly occurs with palliative care workers and physical therapists who work in geriatric and pediatric care. If you are going to go into physical therapy you need to prepare for this eventuality. However, this is not the only aspect of being a physical therapist, just the hardest part. Physical therapists also do more standard recovery work, including helping to restore physical function to stroke victims, or patients suffering neurological damage. They also help improve patients’ mobility, relieve chronic pain and prevent permanent physical disability. The work a physical therapist does can be as simple as helping patients recover from fractures or minor breakages to far more serious work.
The duties of a physical therapist are defined by which of the five branches of physical therapy they specialize in. However, there are duties which are intrinsic to the daily duties of all physical therapists:
- Evaluating your patients’ condition using current information and their medical history
- Developing an individual therapy program for patients
- Providing treatment above and beyond therapeutic exercises: heat or water therapy, massage programs, and more intensive rehabilitation efforts
- Testing and measuring patients’ strength, their range of motion, balance, muscle performance, and motor functions
- Provide encouragement for recalcitrant patients
These tasks all ensure proper care of your patients, but it is that last point which is the most required task a physical therapist performs daily. Many patients undergoing physical therapy are in acute pain, and the exercises and treatments you require them to undergo may seem painful, even terrifying – especially to patients who have undergone cerebral or neurological damage – and it’s up to you to not only alleviate their fears, but also to make sure that their treatments are performed properly and carefully. It is often necessary to develop a good rapport with your patients in order that they come to trust you, and understand that you are on their side, and that whatever pains they may undergo in the short term it is for their long term benefit.
The educational background and achievements required to become a physical therapist is intensive, and requires a fair investment of time. It takes a Graduate Degree to qualify for the right to undertake your physical therapy licensing exams. Some States also require that you undergo an internship or apprenticeship before you are allowed to take your licensing exams.
And it’s worth mentioning that even after you acquire your licensing and begin practice, you will need to retake the licensing exams every two years in order to maintain your license to practice.
Once you acquire your license to practice as a physical therapist, the positions that are open to you are wide and varied. Most practicing physical therapists work in a hospital setting, but others choose to work in clinics, nursing homes, with professional sporting teams, with schools, or on military bases.
Depending on where you end up practicing, you may see patients on either a temporary or permanent basis – all of this based around an individual patient’s needs. And some physical therapists work with a diverse group of patients by working part time in several different clinical capacities. This allows physical therapists with multiple specialities to aid patients with different needs without sacrificing their own health needs and overextending, which can result in early burnout. And this method also allows physical therapists to maintain a good salary – an average salary for a physical therapist working the equivalent of full time hours is $74,713 a year – which allows them to provide well for their own families, as well as their community.
The life of a physical therapist is a rewarding one, both personally and professionally, but the above factors should be taken into consideration when deciding if this is the career for you. This profession provides a fantastic way to look after your community, and help others, but you need to make sure that you too, and your own family, will be well looked after in the process. If this sounds like the right profession for you, then it’s time to start looking at the educational requirements, financial aid available to you, and the career path you want to undertake. Good luck!