If you’ve decided you want to become a physical therapist, but aren’t entirely sure how to go about getting your degree and practicing, let us walk you through the process. Below, we’ve outlined the 5 steps you need to learn in order to know how to become a physical therapist.
Evaluate Your Skills
Physical therapists need to have a good grounding in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and the Physical Sciences. Before you begin undertaking your Undergraduate Degree, you need to invest some time into buffing up on any of the aforementioned subjects in which you are not entirely conversant. Some of the material is more for educational purposes than for practical use, but it’s all good knowledge to have, and it’s all academic if you can’t pass the courses required to complete your degree.
Another self-assessment you should be willing to undergo is asking yourself how comfortable you are with seeing others in pain. Physical therapy is a great way to help others, and give something back to the community in which you live or work, but you will be dealing with people in various states of pain and distress day in and day out. It is up to you to find a way to deal with their pain and still manage to motivate your charges to perform their recovery exercises – exercises that can be quite painful, especially for those just beginning to undergo treatment for serious injuries.
Once you’ve made up your mind to become a physical therapist, you’ll need to decide what branch of physical therapy most interests you. There are various specializations to work in, each with their own set of duties and challenges. The most commonly chosen specializations include:
- Geriatric Physical Therapy
- Sports Related Physical Therapy
- Pediatric Physical Therapy
- Orthopedic Physical Therapy
- Neurological Physical Therapy
- Degenerative Diseases
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy
To find out more about each of these specializations use the relevant sections of this website, or get in touch with the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association), which is an invaluable resource for information relating to all aspects of physical therapy.
Choose Your Undergraduate Physical Therapy School
Though you need to acquire a Graduate Degree to practice as a licensed physical therapist, in order to get into that Graduate program you will need to plan carefully for your Undergraduate studies in order to get into the Graduate program of your choice.
You’ll need to study Biology, Anatomy, Chemistry, Physics, and Physical Sciences courses related to physical therapy in order to qualify for most Graduate Degree programs that will allow you to practice. Use the four years you’ll spend in your Undergraduate program to prepare strenuously for your Graduate Degree in order to get ahead of the competition.
Acquire Your Graduate Degree in Physical Therapy
A good Graduate program in physical therapy will teach you about cardiopulmonary physical therapy, neurological physical therapy, generalized physical therapy and psychosocial issues. It will also cover musculoskeletal disorders and the kinds of physical therapy related research that will be of use to you once you start practicing.
You should look for a program that covers all the above, as well as offers you the opportunity to do clinical or lab work as part of your Graduate Degree studies. This will let you gain invaluable experience dealing directly with patients, diagnosing and engaging in rehabilitation, by working directly with licensed professional therapists.
Your Graduate Degree will also prepare you for taking the National Physical Therapy Examination and testing for your State licensing, discussed below.
Get a State License
Once you’ve acquired your Graduate Degree you’ll need to pass two State license board examinations in order to acquire your license to practice as a physical therapist. You also need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination before you can earn the right to undergo the licensed exams.
Each State has its own individual licensing requirements, so you’ll need to check into what specifically is required of you in addition to the two examinations your State will require you to pass. Contact the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association), or visit their website for a full list of State by State guidelines.
You will also need to renew your license every two years. It is advisable to undertake continuing education courses, or updating courses relating to physical therapy to make sure you stay on top of changes to all aspects of your vocation.
The foregoing is enough to get you started on the road to becoming a physical therapist, but for more information you should see the other sections of this website, specifically those detailing education and financial aid as you undertake your Undergraduate and Graduate degrees.