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How to Become a Physical Therapist?

how to become a physical therapist

Do you love helping people overcome their injuries and adversaries?

If so, working as a physical therapist could be perfect for you. This role involves working closely with people who have mobility issues, usually because of an injury.

You need to have a detailed knowledge of the human body to do this job, especially the joints, bones, and muscles. While this career can be very rewarding, it can take a lot of time and dedication to get fully qualified.

So, let’s take an in-depth look at how to become a physical therapist and what this job involves.

how to become physical therapist

What Is A Physical Therapist?

Physical therapy involves helping patients improve their quality of life through hands-on care, prescribed exercises, and patient education. This involves rehabilitating patients after a serious injury or illness and helping them take back control of their movements. They work closely with patients over several weeks or months to resolve serious movement and coordination issues.

Key Duties And Responsibilities

Before you start thinking about getting qualified, you need to make sure this is the right job for you. While your daily duties may vary slightly, certain tasks are typical of this role. Here are the main duties as well as the responsibilities you are likely to do regularly.

Read more: How to Become a Minister?

Diagnosing patient conditions

When you meet a new patient, you will need to quickly and accurately diagnose their mobility issues. These conditions could be due to an accident, a birth defect, or a genetic disorder. To make the diagnosis, it is necessary to talk with the patient and other doctors. It is also necessary to conduct different types of tests to form an accurate diagnosis.

Developing treatment plans

After forming a diagnosis, you will then develop a cohesive treatment plan for the patient. This usually starts with therapeutic activities to overcome the patient’s limitations, which can take several months. It is also a good idea to factor goals and milestones into the treatment plan to encourage patients.

Running therapy sessions and activities

Part of the treatment process often involves conducting group and individual therapy sessions to improve patient mobility. This may start with stretching and exercises that increase the range of movement. Low-impact activities like swimming help patients increase their strength while also building their confidence.

Maintaining detailed patient records

It is important to keep clear and detailed records of patient diagnosis, treatment, and progress. You need to carefully and accurately enter all data and notes on the condition of patients. These records may also need to be shared with other medical professionals to help further treat patients.

Prescribing medication and making referrals

It is often necessary to prescribe different types of medication to reduce joint swelling and manage pain. It is important to be able to recognize when a patient needs to be referred to a specialist. In these cases, you will need to make a connection with the relevant specialist.

How To Become A Physical Therapist?

It can take up to eight years to complete the training for this role. The path to becoming fully qualified involves education, special training, clinical hours, and shadowing hours. While the exact journey varies from person to person, here is an overview of the steps you should take.

Gain a bachelor’s degree

After graduating from high school, the first step is completing a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field. The most popular subjects to major in include anatomy, physiology, exercise science, biomechanics, and kinesiology. Other courses that can aid your future career include biology, musculoskeletal sciences, pharmacology, neuroscience, and metabolic sciences.

Get hands-on physical therapy experience

Once you have a bachelor’s degree, you need to complete a certain amount of hours working alongside a licensed professional. This will help you to learn the soft skills and technical skills you need to do the job well. This includes interacting with patients, patient preparation, and basic movements.

Physical therapy shadowing opportunities can take place in a wide range of medical settings. When applying for a position, it is a good idea to consider the area you plan to specialize in. This will help you to gain advanced skills and experience while completing your training.

Complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy Program

It usually takes three years to complete a doctorate in physical therapy. This advanced program combines 20% clinical education with 80% classroom and lab study. Make sure you choose a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. The course should also offer targeted instruction on the field you want to practice in.

how to become the physical therapist

Fulfill the license requirements

Before you can start working as a physical therapist, you need to obtain a professional license. While the requirements vary from state to state, you will have to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. The exam is offered four times a year and consists of 250 questions.

Complete a physical therapy residency or fellowship

Completing a physical therapy fellowship or a residency program allows you to specialize in an area of physical therapy. These programs teach you specialist knowledge and give you hands-on experience working in a clinic. As a result, you will complete some of the hours necessary to gain your certification.

Types Of Associate Degrees

It is best to choose an associate degree that is accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association. Check the outline of the course carefully to make sure it includes instruction in your chosen area. Let’s check out some of the most popular associate degrees and what they offer.

Physical Therapist Assistant Procedures

This course provides an introduction to clinical environment work and the key physical therapy assistant duties. Students gain practical experience in how to take a patient’s vital signs and administer the Heimlich maneuver. The course also includes instruction and practice of the correct CPR technique.

Clinical Kinesiology

Students will learn all about the body’s nervous and musculoskeletal systems and how they function. The course instruction includes how to recognize both normal and abnormal patient gait. Students also gain experience in measuring joints and learn the correct muscle testing technique.

Therapeutic Exercise

The different types of therapeutic exercises and their application to different medical conditions are taught during this course. Students learn how to develop exercise programs for a wide range of medical conditions and how to protect patients. The course also includes instruction on how to evaluate patient progress during exercise programs.

Assistive Devices

This course provides an overview of the different types of assistive devices and their application. Students learn how to choose the right wheelchair and other equipment for different patients. It also includes an overview of how to teach patients to use canes, crutches, walkers, and other assistive devices.

Different Bachelor’s Degree Options

Most types of certifications specializations require advanced qualifications and training as well as a bachelor’s degree. While there is no degree in physical therapy, there are several great options. Here are some of the bachelor’s degrees you can choose from and an overview of what they involve.

Health science statistics

This course covers the different types of statistical methodologies that are applied to the healthcare field. Students learn how to use different statistical methods to analyze patient data. This includes analysis of variance, inferential statistics, and correlation.

Athletic injuries

This course is essential for anyone who wants to specialize in sports therapy, and it covers athletic injuries. This includes the cause of different athletic injuries, how to diagnose them, and the best treatment methods. The course also covers how to create and implement preventative plans and the application of sports medicine.

how to become the physical therapist guide


This course provides an overview of the different types of drugs that physical therapists use and prescribe. Students learn about the best types of drugs to use for different conditions. They also learn about the psychological and physical effects of different drugs and how to recognize drug abuse issues.

Health psychology

This course teaches students how to use a biopsychological perspective to treat patients. Students learn about the effect of pain on the psychological state of patients and how to recognize mental health issues. The course also covers the role of good nutrition in alleviating stress and pain.


Choosing a specialization allows you to become an expert in your field and provide targeted care for patients. While it is necessary to complete additional training, you will receive a higher salary and can provide intensive care. Here are some of the most popular fields you can specialize in and an overview of what those fields involve.

Cardiovascular and Pulmonary

This specialization trains you in how to diagnose and treat different types of cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders. This includes post coronary bypass surgery, heart attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pulmonary fibrosis.

Patients who suffer from these conditions often require special care for a period of several months. This specialization also focuses on helping patients embrace new lifestyles that will boost their health and wellbeing.


This specialization covers a wide range of issues that are generally associated with older people. It is necessary to be able to provide special treatment that takes the needs of older people into account. In many cases, these specialists work in retirement homes and provide ongoing care for an established client base.

Many conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis lead to instability and joint pain. Geriatric physical therapists help patients increase their mobility as well as their hand-eye coordination while increasing their confidence. They also help patients with pain management, exercise tolerance, strength, balance, and memory loss.


On the other end of the age scale, this specialization focuses on working with babies and infants. This specialization involves detecting health problems and disorders and creating cohesive care plans. The treatment methods mainly focus on improving balance and coordination, improving gross and fine motor skills, and enhancing cognitive processing.

Wound management

The Academy of Clinical Electrophysiology and Wound Management provides information on how to pursue this specialization. Wound management involves treating conditions that involve the skin, such as burns and wounds. It includes damaged or contaminated skin tissue, splinting, and providing special dressings.


This specialization involves diagnosing, treating, and managing injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system. This includes helping patients with their rehabilitation after orthopedic surgery, acute trauma like sprains, and insidious onset injuries. These specialists are trained in the treatment of post-operative orthopedic procedures and typically work in an outpatient clinical setting.


This type of physical therapy usually involves working closely with different types of athletes. It may involve working for professional sports teams and providing care after an injury. The main categories of athletic injury management are acute care, treatment, rehabilitation, prevention, and education.

Women’s health

This specialization focuses on conditions that are specific to women, such as the female reproductive system, childbirth, and post-partum. Some of the conditions that you would diagnose and treat include pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, lymphedema, and osteoporosis. Therapists apply special manual physical therapy treatments to increase the chances of successful pregnancy and help reduce complications.

Looking For More Info And Advice?

Well, look no further! Check out our selection of various positions and what they entail, such as our Physical Therapy Technician Job Description and our Massage Therapist Job Description, or how about our Occupational Therapist Job Description to give you a better idea.

With endless introductions and guides on Physical Therapy, our top choices are an Introduction to Physical Therapy, Acute Care Handbook for Physical Therapists, or perhaps try The American Physical Therapy Association Book of Body Maintenance and Repair and Physical Rehabilitation.

We also highly recommend reading up on the different specializations in the field such as Orthopaedic Physical Therapy, and The Ultimate Guide to Pediatric Physical Therapy Documentation: For Student Physical Therapists and PTs, or the very interesting Neurologic Interventions for Physical Therapy, and finally Acute Care Physical Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide all available online in 2023.

Final Thoughts

Physically therapists provide a vital role in society that can significantly improve the lives of people. While it takes time and dedication to become qualified, there are numerous benefits. This job can be very rewarding and also comes with a competitive salary.

The average salary for a physical therapist is around $90,000 per year. Gaining advanced qualifications and specializing in a particular area can boost your earning potential considerably. The top earners in this field can receive at least $125,000 per year in addition to a range of other special benefits.

All the very best in your new career as a Physical Therapist!

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