Physical Therapist: Job Profile & Salary

Overview

This hands-on career is also one of the fastest growing. As one of the 198,600 physical therapists in the United States, you might work in a clinic, hospital, or private office, and your patients could include an aging athlete, a recent accident victim, or a young person with lower back pain. It's your job to test and measure their coordination, muscle strength, range of motion, and motor function. From your examination, you must determine a strategy for treatment, so they can regain mobility, be relieved of pain, or learn to live with a disability. You may consult with other medical care providers, including physicians, occupational therapists, and social workers.
Job opportunities look good in the field, and employment is expected to grow much faster than average thanks to rising demand for such services among aging baby boomers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects physical therapist employment growth of 39 percent between 2010 and 2020, with the field adding 77,400 more jobs. Thanks to good job opportunities for physical therapists, it lands at No. 8 on The Best Jobs of 2012 list.
Salary Range

75th Percentile Wage: $90,350
Median Wage: $76,310
25th Percentile Wage: $64,230
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Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual wage for a physical therapist was $76,310 in 2010. The best-paid 10 percent of workers in the category made approximately $107,920, while the bottom 10 percent made approximately $53,620. The highest wages are found in physician offices or hospitals. By location, the highest-paid positions are clustered in the metropolitan areas of McAllen, Texas, Madera, Calif., and Fairbanks, Ark.
Training

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At a minimum, you'll need a master's degree and a state license to become a practicing therapist. Many students currently pursue a doctor of physical therapy degree (DPT), and new graduates taking the national licensure examination in the field after 2017 will be required to hold such a degree. Most doctoral programs last three years, compared with two or two and a half for a master's. Many licenses also require continuing education in order to stay certified.
Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility: Below Average
Stress Level: Below Average
Flexibility: Above Average

Reviews and Advice

On-the-job internships are a required part of any physical therapist's training, and experts say that's the place to make the connections that will land you a job. "It's a unique opportunity for students to pay attention to what they like or don't like," about the job or a particular type of practice, says Janet Bezner, deputy executive director of the American Physical Therapy Association. Starting the job hunt while still in school is key, she says, as is narrowing the type of patients you'd like to treat, be they orthopedic, pediatric, geriatric, or another demographic, as well as the size and style of practice that will best suit you. She also advises applicants to highlight other skills in addition to their PT education and training. For example, Bezner notes a variety of skills, from a Pilates certification to an MBA, can add something extra when joining a practice. Plus, she says the current environment is a "buyer's market," so applicants have more room to tailor their job hunt to their own specifications.