Physical Therapist Salary

Physical Therapist SalaryPhysical therapists treat patients suffering from physical impairments. Ranging from car crash victims to Olympic athletes striving for world-record performances, the profession deals with a huge variety of cases and patients. Ever wondered how much a physical therapist makes? Or how to become one? Read on, as this article will explain the average salary of physical therapists, their key responsibilities, typical work environments and career paths.

Physical Therapist Salary

What is the salary for a physical therapist? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual average income was $83,940per annum. The top 10% earned $116,090 per year, whilst the lowest 10% made $56,800 annually.

A number of determining factors influence potential earnings. Income varies with specialization – some fields earn more than others. Becoming specialized involves more time spent in education, so average salaries are higher. Also, income depends on employers; Where you are employed also impacts earnings. Those in metropolitan areas tend to earn more than those in rural settings. The 5 highest paying states are Nevada, Alaska, New Jersey, California and Texas. Finally, salaries increase proportionally to job experience. Graduates applying for entry-level positions can expect a starting salary of around $56,800,which increases by roughly 10% for every 10 years on the job .

Full time physical therapists typically enjoy generous benefit packages, commonly consisting of social security, retirement plans, pension schemes, health care and time off.

Job Description

Physical therapists use an array of therapeutic exercises in order to increase patients’ mobility, strengthen muscles, and relieve pain. Many key responsibilities are mutual between disciplines, but therapy varies greatly depending on the type of patient.

Before appointments, therapists review patients’ medical histories, as well as any notes from physicians from who the client has been sent. Looking at past problems is often key to analyzing a client’s current condition. Therapists then perform tests and examinations to determine the problem. This can include checking ranges of motion for different body parts, to identify dysfunctional muscles, tendons or joints.

After diagnosis, a treatment plan is designed which is specific to the patient’s condition. Physical therapists discuss their plan’s goals, timeline and expected outcome to clients, as well as demonstrating stretches or exercises. As previously mentioned, treatments vary considerably depending on the patient. Hot and cold treatments are commonly used to reduce swelling, promote blood flow and relieve pain. Therapists may also prescribe devices such as crutches or wheelchairs.

It’s important for physical therapists to be patient and adaptable, as rehabilitation can be a lengthy process, and treatment plans may have to be modified based on physical evaluations.

Work Environment

Most physical therapists work in private clinics, hospitals or nursing homes, although they will spend part of their day in offices completing administrative tasks. Those employed by private healthcare companies are often sent to clients’ homes, so commuting can be a large part of their job. Most work full time during normal business hours, although 1 in 4 work part-time. 65% of therapists are women, whilst 35% are men.

The job is both physically and emotionally draining. Patient’s often need to be lifted or moved, meaning that therapists are vulnerable to back injuries if proper lifting techniques aren’t used. Additionally, most of their day is spent on their feet, dealing with clients.

Typically, rehabilitation progress can only be measured in small steps, so patience is key. The job can be stressful when dealing with frustrated clients who don’t understand their physical limitations.  That said, the profession boasts high job satisfaction, and received 5/5 in this category in a survey conducted by PayScale, based on 1630 votes.

How to become a Physical Therapist

To become a physical therapist, you need to attain a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree, as well as becoming licensed by state.

DPT programs are typically 3 years long. Most require applicants to have at least a Bachelor’s degree. Other pre-requisites may also be needed, such as anatomical, physiological or biological studies. The curriculum involves both classroom study and practical experience. Students take courses including biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience and pharmacology, as well as completing supervised clinical internships in hospitals or private clinics.

After completing a DPT program, graduates can enter residency programs. These usually last one year, and give additional training in specialized areas. For further specialization, they can complete fellowships in their chosen discipline, such as sports, pediatrics or neurology. After work experience, therapists can become board certified in one of 8 disciplines. Certification, offered by the American Board of Therapy Specialties, requires one to pass relevant exams and have completed at least 2000 hours of clinical work.

Licensing requirements vary by state, but all include passing the National Physical Therapy exam, which is provided by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states also require therapists to pass an exam regarding health laws. To maintain licensure, one must stay abreast of developments in their field.

Career Outlook

Physical therapy is currently thriving, with high demand for therapists. Employment opportunities are expected to grow by 36% (BLS) in the 2012-2022 projection period, translating to 73,000 more jobs.

Multiple factors dictate demand. Aging baby boomers are living longer lives, and consequently more therapists are needed to treat age-related conditions such as arthritis and stroke. Further therapists are needed to fight rising incidences of chronic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes. With advances in medical technology, victims of previously fatal birth-defects and injuries are more likely to survive, but will often need physical therapy throughout their lives, fueling demand for therapists.

As with all jobs in the health-care sector, employment prospects are sensitive to government funding and current health care policies. With funding expected to increase, people will have greater access to health services, so more therapists will be needed.

Related Careers

Psychologists investigate human thinking and behavior. They use a variety of observation techniques to test hypotheses, as well as helping patients deal with emotional issues. Becoming a psychologist involves attaining a Master’s degree in psychology, although a doctoral degree may be necessary for some positions. According to BLS, the average annual salary for psychologists was $69,280 in 2012.

Medical doctors diagnose and treat patients. They perform various tests and, using their extensive knowledge of medical conditions, determine what the problem is and how to cure it. Doctors can specialize in a number of fields, such as anesthesiology or cardiology. Becoming one involves graduating from medical school, completing residency programs and gaining state licensure, a process which can take up to 16 years. The average salary for medical doctors in 2012 was $187,200 per year.

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