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Physical Therapy

The Breakdown

We often take mobility and independence for granted, that is until our capacity for them diminishes. Either through accident or disease, we can find our physical movement hampered or compromised. Physical therapists help patients restore motion, regain strength and relieve pain. They are trained to work on a variety of people and ailments, from those suffering from arthritis or cerebral palsy to patients recovering from fractures or head injuries. After assessing medical histories and observing strength, coordination and balance, physical therapists will create a regimen specific to the needs of a particular individual. They typically employ a number of treatment options including exercise, massage, hot and cold compresses and even electrical stimuli. They will also help patients adjust to equipment such as wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs. Additionally, some physical therapists choose to specialize in a certain area like sports medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics or orthopedics.

Similar to other careers within the medical field, you cannot actually pursue a bachelor’s in physical therapy. In order to become a licensed physical therapist, you must attend a graduate program. Some universities offer a combined pre-physical and physical therapy program, allowing you to fulfill undergraduate coursework and pre-requisites and then seemingly transition into graduate school. Most students who follow this approach finish within six years.

Of course, plenty of future physical therapists complete an undergraduate degree before applying to a graduate program. Though many who take this route often major in a subject like health science, exercise science or anatomy, there is no particular recommended major. Most universities encourage you to simply pick a field that you’re curious and passionate about. However, you must make sure that you complete the aforementioned pre-requisites. These generally include biology, chemistry, physiology and calculus courses.

The best physical therapists realize that patience and reassurance go a long way. They understand how to encourage their clients while gently pushing them farther than they might have thought possible. Indeed, stellar people skills are a must in this profession. And those therapists that thrive will find themselves compensated with a hugely rewarding career.

Nuts and Bolts

Once enrolled in a graduate program for physical therapy, you will take classes like: Clinical Neuroscience, Applied Pathophysiology, Gross Anatomy, Physical Agents and Electrotherapeutics, Evaluation and Management of Patients in Acute Care, Foundation of Physical Therapy Examination, Evaluation and Diagnosis, Statistics for Health Sciences, Examination of and Intervention for Musculoskeletal Conditions and Movement Science.

Decisions, Decisions

Students who think about pursuing a degree in physical therapy also contemplate studying biology, nursing, exercise science, neuroscience, occupational therapy, human development, gerontology, psychology, massage therapy, physical education or becoming a physician’s assistant.

What's Next

Physical therapists can find employment in a number of settings. Many graduates work in conjunction with a doctor’s office or nursing facility. Others are employed through home healthcare agencies and some physical therapists maintain their own private practices. In addition to working with patients, those with a degree in physical therapy can also conduct research or teach. Regardless of the avenue you ultimately choose, the employment outlook for physical therapists is strong for the foreseeable future.


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Don Munce