What Can I Do with a Degree in Physical Therapy?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in physical therapy. Find information on physical therapy careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in physical therapy.


The numerous possibilities for a career in the medical profession also include the discipline of physical therapy, individuals who assist people in their recovery from injury or illness. PTs, as they are known, help and teach people how to restore movement, prevent mobility loss and minimize pain. PTs work with people who suffer from neck injuries, amputations, paralysis, sports injuries, stroke, and chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy. Physical therapists diagnose and treat people on an individual basis, as each client will require a distinct and unique regimen. Working alongside doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, physical therapist often are employed in hospitals or outpatient clinics, and, it should be noted, have very physically demanding jobs that frequently require the therapist to kneel, crouch, lift and move equipment or people, helping them to stand or walk.

Individuals seeking a career as a physical therapist must obtain certification following a traditional Bachelor’s Degree. All States regulate the physical therapy industry. The American Physical Therapy Association, under their Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) oversees academic programs in physical therapy, monitoring some 212 programs across the United States. Individuals may seek out a Master’s Degree, or even a Doctorate in Physical Therapy.


In 2008, there were a recorded 185,500 full-time licensed physical therapists in the United States. Many others, about 27 percent of all PTs, worked part-time, often at more than one facility, or even in private practice. Some 60 percent of all physical therapists work directly in a hospital or other health care office. Many others find employment in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, adult day care facilities, or in schools. Physical therapists, with enough education, can even teach the discipline of physical therapy in an accredited institution.

The Physical Therapist, above all else, must be able to incorporate such disparate elements as therapeutic exercise, adaptive or assisting devices, electrotherapeutic machines and manual therapy techniques. Each patient will require different levels of therapy, the career of a qualified Physical Therapist demands not only technical expertise, but also interpersonal skills. Entry-level physical therapist assistants will work under the supervision of a senior physical therapist.

Industry Salary Info

As of 2008, the average physical therapist in the United States had a median salary of $72,790. Although salary will vary based on such elements as geographic location, education level and work experience, most physical therapists made between $60,000 and $85,500, with the highest paid earning well over $100,000 per year. Physical therapists employed in the home health care service industry were, in general, paid the most, averaging $77,630 per year. This was followed by employment in a nursing care facility, which paid $76,680, hospital employment, where a PT can earn $73,270, and physician offices, where the average annual pay comes in at $72,790.

Entry-level physical therapists can expect to see a salary under $50,000 per year. A full-time position as a physical therapist will pay more than a part-time placement, which may only pay on an hourly basis. Some experienced physical therapists may eventually seek out self-employment where earning potential is limited only by the individual’s motivation.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for the field of physical therapy is expected to be quite robust over the next decade, seeing 30 percent growth. Job opportunities will be plentiful as patient access to physical therapy services increase. America’s growing elderly population will require PT for a host of chronic and debilitating conditions that accompany aging, such as heart attack and stroke. Advancements in medical technology are also allowing trauma victims greater survival rates. For example, among battlefield soldiers, what used to be fatal events are now survivable injuries. However, these increased survival rates will require months, if not years, of intense physical therapy for the resumption of a near normal life. Further, the federal government Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that all students have access to physical therapy services, if needed, in order for them to participate in a mainstream classroom. Therefore, the demand for qualified physical therapists in the school will only increase as well.

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