Physical therapists play a unique role in helping individuals overcome the effects of disease, injury, or developmental abnormalities that limit their ability to move and perform functional activities. They work with individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have problems with movement that impair normal function. Some examples would be related to back and neck injuries, sprains and fractures, arthritis, burns, amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and also injuries related to work and sports.
Physical therapists assess joint motion, muscle strength and endurance, heart and lung function, and the performance of activities required in daily living. Treatment includes therapeutic exercise, cardiovascular endurance training, and rehabilitation in the activities of daily living. Physical therapists may elect to practice as generalists, or they may choose one of a number of specialty areas such as orthopedics, geriatrics, neurology, pediatrics, or cardiopulmonary physical therapy.
Therapists often consult and practice with a variety of other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses, educators, social workers, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists.
- Physician or other health practitioner offices
- Long-term care
- Home healthcare
- Private practice
- Academic institutions
Physical therapists typically practice in specially equipped work areas within hospitals, private offices and other healthcare settings. These jobs can be physically demanding, because therapists may have to stoop, kneel, crouch, lift, and stand for long periods. In addition, therapists move heavy equipment and lift patients or help them turn, stand or walk. Most full-time physical therapists report working a 40-hour week. Some work evening or weekend hours to fit their patients’ schedules. Around one-fourth of physical therapists report working part-time hours.
Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow 30 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. One factor affecting growth will be a trend toward better reimbursement for physical therapy services by insurance companies. Also driving growth will be the increasing elderly population, particularly vulnerable to conditions that require therapeutic services. Advances in medical treatment and technology are helping more trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care. Job opportunities look good for licensed physical therapists in all settings, and particularly good in acute hospital, skilled nursing and orthopedic settings. Opportunities should be especially favorable in rural areas, where there tend to be shortages of skilled providers.
- Ability to learn the complex sciences on which physical therapy is based
- Strong interpersonal and communication skills
- Good space and form perception, manual dexterity, and general coordination
- Ability to relate to a variety of people and direct and influence others
- Ability to see differences in images and adapt the treatment accordingly
- Ability to make judgments based on data and observations, and take responsibility for planning programs
- Emotional stability, creativity, patience, and understanding
- Physically fit to handle the demands of providing therapy and working with patients who need assistance
The minimum educational requirement is a professional master’s (MPT) or doctoral (DPT) degree in physical therapy. Most programs require 3-4 years of undergraduate preparation, followed by 2-3 years of professional education. Undergraduate courses that are useful when one applies to a physical therapist education program are anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics, social science, mathematics and statistics. Before granting admission, many programs require volunteer experience in the physical therapy department of a hospital or clinic.
All states regulate the practice of physical therapy. An applicant for a license to practice physical therapy must graduate from an approved physical therapy education program, pass the national licensure examination, and fulfill any other State requirements such as continuing education.
Programs in Nebraska
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Other careers that involve rehabilitation of physical disabilities and providing wellness and prevention programs:
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Physical Therapists, on the Internet at www.bls.gov