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Why Become a Physical Therapist?

Think you want to be a physical therapist? Find out what the career has to offer and if it is something you are interested in pursuing.

According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have medical problems or other health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. A physical therapist examines patients individually and develops a plan using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability.

Key characteristics of physical therapists

Success in a physical therapy education program, and as a physical therapist, requires excellent observation, communication, motor and sensory skills. Physical therapy students need strong intellectual, conceptual, integrative and quantitative abilities. Good physical therapists must exhibit the compassion, integrity, concern for others and interpersonal skills that are essential to working in a helping environment in health care.

Physical therapy education

Physical therapists must earn a post-baccalaureate (masters or doctoral) degree from an accredited education program. Physical therapy programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Find a list of accredited physical therapy programs here. Upon graduation, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam for Licensure in order to practice.


Plan carefully so you complete all required prerequisite coursework prior to graduating from your undergraduate institution. Find a complete list of our prerequisite courses here.

  • Study hard! Our average GPA for accepted students is 3.5.
  • Shadow physical therapists (see our observation requirement here) and talk with students who are in physical therapy school.
  • Join your school’s pre-PT club, if available, and discuss your plans for graduate school with your academic advisor.
  • If you have questions about preparing yourself for physical therapy school, be sure to contact us at 800-240-2767 extension 7854.

Physical therapy specialties

When you graduate from an entry-level D.P.T. program you are trained as generalists and can practice in any area of physical therapy. If you are interested in specialized training, you can earn a specialist certification after you have some clinical experience as a physical therapist and pass a certification exam. As of 2009, over 9,400 physical therapists have been certified as clinical specialists. Areas of specialization include cardiovascular/pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, neurology, orthopaedics, pediatrics, sports and women’s health.

Physical therapy job outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is expected to grow by 30 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. The average annual salary for physical therapists in 2008 was $72,790 and varies based on location, experience and practice setting.

Physical therapy careers

About 20 percent of physical therapists practice in hospitals. Opportunities also exist in: outpatient clinics, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, skilled nursing centers, home health, schools, hospices, industrial settings and sports training facilities. Because physical therapists are educated as generalist there are many possibilities for practice settings.

More information about physical therapy: