Physical therapy is a continually growing field and in my opinion is one of the best jobs to have if you enjoy problem solving, helping people and workdays that never see the same thing twice. Forbes has ranked physical therapy as “one of the ten happiest jobs” and as “one of the top ten jobs in high demand” for several years. The biggest perk of being a physical therapist is the ability to help people feel and move better, by relieving pain, rehabilitating injuries, and improving quality of life. Physical therapists’ vast knowledge of the muscles and joints of the human body and extensive understanding of body mechanics helps to decrease our own risk of injuries during sports and daily activities. The nature of our job also allows us to avoid being sedentary throughout the day and assists in our ability to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.
So now that the benefits of being a physical therapist have been established, how do you go about attaining such a rewarding job? What does it take to become a physical therapist?
Ninety-five percent of the accredited physical therapy programs in the United States are doctorate level programs. This means that you must complete your undergraduate degree before being accepted into a physical therapy program. Most accredited programs require prerequisite courses including anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology with an undergraduate G.P.A. of at least 3.0. If you have completed your prerequisites in undergrad, you can apply to programs before you graduate. If you have not completed the prerequisites and have already received your undergraduate degree, you can still take the needed classes at a community college or any other accredited university and apply once all the prerequisites have been completed. Applicants are also required to submit acceptable scores on the GRE and provide several letters of recommendation. Most programs also require 100-200 hours of physical therapy experience, whether it’s volunteering at a hospital and observing a physical therapist or working as an aide at an outpatient clinic.
Once an applicant is accepted into physical therapy school, the hard work continues for another three years. The average curriculum includes advanced courses such as anatomy, neuropathology, differential diagnosis, biomechanics, pharmacology, cardiopulmonary conditions, modalities, radiology, and therapeutic exercise. A large part of the curriculum is also focused on hands on lab time practicing manual or hands-on skills including soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, and manual stretching/neuromuscular facilitation. All graduate level physical therapy programs also require students to have clinical experience. Students complete several internships in a variety of settings-outpatient orthopedic, inpatient acute hospital care, sub-acute rehab, and pediatric.
After a busy three years of grad school and finally graduating with a doctorate of physical therapy, it’s time for the next step – taking the board exam. In order to attain a physical therapy license, which is required to practice as a physical therapist in the United States, it is necessary to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). The NPTE is an extensive exam that covers patient evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis for all aspects of physical therapy practice. Additionally, in the state of California (and 28 other states), a jurisprudence exam is also required. The jurisprudence exam tests the state’s laws and regulations for practicing physical therapy.