Choosing Physical therapy as a Career | General Statistics | Preparing for a Career in Physical therapy | The Admissions Process | Sample Undergraduate Program | Relevant Websites and Resources | Frequently Asked Questions |
Physical therapy involves using physical methods (e.g., manipulation, traction, massage, exercise, etc.) to assess, diagnose, and treat injury, disability or disease. The physical therapist works with patients to help improve their strength and mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical impairment. They are experts of movement and function of the body and perform testing of muscle function, strength, joint flexibility, balance and coordination, posture, motor function, quality of life, and activities of daily living. After examination, physical therapists will design a health plan that involves short and long-term functional goals that will improve the patient's well-being. Physical therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practice and may specialize in areas such as sports medicine, orthopedics, neurologic rehabilitation, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, women's health, and geriatrics. Additional areas of focused clinical practice include acute care, education and clinical education, health policy and administration, oncology, and research.
Fast Facts Physical Therapy
Choosing Physical therapy as a Career
With the increasing demands of physical therapists, individuals interested in pursuing this health profession must be independent thinkers with high-level problem-solving skills. Recently, this health profession has transitioned from a master's level education to a doctoral level. It is anticipated that by 2010, 99% of the physical therapy programs will be accredited to award the professional Doctoral of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.
Students interested in pursuing physical therapy as a career should possess attributes that include excellent interpersonal, communication, problem solving, critical thinking and leadership skills. Students should also be comfortable working with individuals of all ages and have a sincere interest in improving the health and wellness of patients. With today's population living longer and remaining active later in life, physical therapists are in a dire demand. There are many reasons students choose physical therapy as a career:
- Excellent income: the median salary of physical therapists in private practice is between $70,000 (www.apta.org) depending on position, years of experience, degree of education, geographic location, and practice setting. Some make over $100,000 (www.explorehealthcareers.org)
- Satisfying professional career: many physical therapists enjoy the independence and autonomy of owning their own practice and the flexibility of determining their practice hours (thus allowing more time for personal life)
- Career outlook is excellent: new physical therapists are needed in private practice and as teachers in academic settings. Because of our aging population, opportunities for physical therapists specializing in geriatrics are abundant.
- Full-time/part-time flexibility: many physical therapists work part-time, making it easier to balance a career with family life
- Best employment rates: with just a 0.2% unemployment rate, physical therapists are now experiencing some of the best employment conditions
More than 150,000 physical therapists are licensed in the United States today. All physical therapists must receive a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapy program before taking a national licensure examination that allows them to practice. State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices.
Nearly 80% of active physical therapists practice in (1) outpatient clinics or offices, (2) inpatient rehabilitation facilities, (3) skilled nursing, extended care, or subacute facilities, (4) homes, (5) education or research centers, (6) schools, (7) hospices, (8) industrial, workplace, or other occupational environments, or (9) fitness centers and sports training facilities. Most other physical therapists work in hospital settings.
As of March, 2007, there are 210 accredited physical therapy programs in the United States. Of these, 184 (87.6%) awarded the DPT degree. Ohio has 11 physical therapy programs: The Ohio State University, University of Dayton, Ohio University, University of Cincinnati, College of Mount St. Joseph, Bowling Green State University, University of Toledo, Cleveland State University, University of Findlay, Walsh University, and Youngstown State University. Physical therapy school admission statistics can be found at the following links:
- National Statistics
- Ohio Statistics
For more information on physical therapy school admission statistics, please visit the American Physical Therapy Association website at www.apta.org.
Preparing for a Career in Physical Therapy
Wright State University offers all the courses necessary to meet the requirements for entry to physical therapy programs. Many courses are offered twice, if not three times, per year. There are many undergraduate degree options that will prepare students for the physical therapy graduate programs. The most popular degree option is our Exercise Biology track. Students have also majored in biology, athletic training, and psychology.
The vast majority of physical therapy programs require an applicant to possess a bachelor's degree along with successful completion of specific prerequisites that can vary from program to program. Although admission requirements to the physical therapy schools vary by school, the majority (>75%) require:
- 2 courses in anatomy and physiology
- 2 courses in physics
- 2 courses in general chemistry
- 1 course in statistics
- 1 course in biology
- 1 course in psychology
- Standardized test assessing communication and reasoning skills (GRE)
- Exposure to a variety of physical therapy experiences
- Personal and interpersonal attributes evaluated (interview, references)
- GPAs (cumulative and science) >3.00
In addition, courses in lifespan development, exercise science, medical terminology, nutrition, pharmacology, and biochemistry are strongly recommended, if not required. Entry into physical therapy programs is competitive and an applicant must perform well in all courses, specifically the sciences.
The Admissions Process
Factors evaluated by admission committees include GPA (overall and science), GRE scores, experience and knowledge of the profession, and communication, problem-solving and leadership skills.
Sample Undergraduate Program
- B.S. Exercise biology (pre-PT)
- B.S. Biology (pre-PT)
Relevant Websites and Resources
- American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) www.apta.org
- Ohio Physical Therapy Association www.ohiopt.org
- www.ExploreHealthCareers.org Sponsored by the American Dental Education Association, it provides about all health-related occupations.
- Health Professions Admissions Guide: Strategy for Success. National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I apply to physical therapy school?
Although each school has its own application deadline, students interested in applying to physical therapy programs should complete their applications between September and early December, approximately one year before they hope to matriculate. For additional information on programs and their deadlines, visit the Directory of Physical Therapy Programs website at www.apta.org or contact the Pre-Health Advisor.
How do I decide on a physical therapy program to attend?
Students should explore and research a number of physical therapy programs. Deciding what program is best for you is a personal one made after evaluating factors such as geographic location and size of school, cost, class size, licensure pass rates, employability, design and length of program, and degree awarded. Students are encouraged to contact current physical therapy students, as well as recent graduates, to gain information about the variety of factors a program a school has to offer. Viewing a school's website page can also be very helpful.
What undergraduate degree should I obtain to gain admission to a physical therapy program?
There isn't one specific degree that a student must follow to be eligible to apply to physical therapy programs. However, it is important to satisfactorily complete the required prerequisite courses for each school as part of the undergraduate degree curriculum. For assistance, the student can meet with the Pre-Health Advisor to ensure the proper courses are completed and the times they are offered.
What is an acceptable GRE score?
Each physical therapy school is different and students should research each school's website for statistical data. Applicants are encouraged to be familiar with the format and the subject content of the GRE before sitting for the test. If a student doesn't perform well on the GRE, they are eligible to sit for the exam again when they are ready.
Are sample tests available?
Students can purchase study materials and/or courses to help prepare for the GRE. Please see the Pre-Health Advisor for literature regarding these materials and courses. It is important to remember that to do well on the GRE, a considerable amount of time (several weeks to months) should be reserved for studying material on a daily basis.
For information on when and where you can take the GRE, visit the website www.ets.org or call 1-800-473-2255.
How many letters of evaluation are required for physical therapy school?
Generally, most physical therapy programs will require at least 3 letters of recommendation. It is important for a student to be familiar with each programs requirement, as some will require letters from physical therapists, science professors, and employers.
What is the physical therapy school interview like?
Not all physical therapy schools interview their applicants. Generally, those schools that do, only invite applicants that are seriously being considered for matriculation. Applicants will be expected to discuss their motivation for physical therapy, their personal and professional goals, and their assessment of current health care issues. Interviewing formats vary and can either be one-on-one or in a small group. Applicants are usually provided with information about the school's interviewing process before the interview. Most students will be taken on school tours, meet with current students, and discuss financial costs with an advisor.
For assistance in preparing for the interviewing process, please contact the Pre-Health Advisor or the Career Services office to schedule a mock interview.
What can students do to enhance their chances of admission to a physical therapy program?
Candidates should have a high overall GPA and a high GPA in prerequisite course work. Admission officers also look favorably on an applicant's volunteer experience as a physical therapy aide, letters of recommendation from physical therapists or science professors, a sincere commitment to the profession, and excellent writing and interpersonal skills. Students should get involved in:
"Quality and persistence are far more important than quantity"
- Leadership and teamwork positions, such as in student organizations, charity organizations, fundraiser activities, etc.
- Activities that demonstrate your ability to manage multiple tasks while performing well academically
- Shadowing hours with a physical therapist
When will I find out if I am accepted into physical therapy school?
Physical therapy schools usually begin notifying students of acceptance in January.
What is the difference between a physical therapist and a physical therapist assistant? Is the physical therapist assistant program a stepping-stone to a physical therapist program?
A physical therapist requires graduate level work (either a master's or doctoral degree) and successful completion of a national exam. A physical therapist assistant is generally completion of college level courses within two years (associates degree). A physical therapist assistant will assist the physical therapist in carrying out treatments on a patient.
The physical therapist assistant curriculum differs from that of the physical therapist and does not provide the needed prerequisites required for physical therapist education.
Does Wright State have a pre-physical therapy student organization?
Currently, the University does not have a student organization targeted specifically to pre-physical therapy students. However, many of our exercise science/pre-PT students are members of either the Biology Club or the PreMedical Society. These organizations provide mentoring, educational speakers, volunteer and community service, and social activities. If you are interested in joining either of these organizations, please contact the Pre-Health Advisor.