How to Become a Physiotherapist
Are you interested in a career as a Physiotherapist? If so, this guide is for you – it’s packed with information and resources for becoming a Physiotherapist. Learn about educational requirements for the job, what the position pays and much more.
What Does a Physiotherapist Do?
A Physiotherapist, also called a Physical Therapist or just PT, works with injured or ill people to help them improve their range of movement and manage their pain. Physiotherapists work primarily with patients suffering from chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries or recovering from surgery. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, gyms, or at private homes.
Depending on their patient’s specific needs, the physiotherapist will employ a variety of techniques to care for the patient and help them reach their physical goals. These techniques include exercise like swimming or stretching, but it also includes training in functional skills such as the use of a walker, wheelchair or prosthetic. Some common Physiotherapy duties and responsibilities include:
- Diagnose Patients. Physiotherapists observe patients’ movements and listen to their health concerns, and then use that information to diagnose their physical ailment.
- Develop Patients’ Plan of Care. Based on their diagnosis, Physiotherapists will outline a detailed plan of care of each patient, individualized to their needs and goals.
- Use Physical Therapy Techniques on Patients. In line with their plan, Physiotherapists will use techniques such as exercises, stretches, hands-on therapy, and equipment to help patient’s increase mobility and fitness or ease their pain.
- Evaluate Patient’s progress. As they work through their treatment plan, Physiotherapists much monitor the patient’s progress and modify the plan as needed to reach the desired results.
The work of a Physiotherapist calls for a professional who is compassionate and who feels called to care for and help people every day. They must have great interpersonal skills, and the ability to communicate in a sympathetic and understandable way to explain treatment programs and motivate their patients. The job of physical therapy requires a certain amount of physical stamina – Physiotherapists spend a large portion of the day on their feet, and must often do exercises alongside their patients. Additionally, Physiotherapists must have strong analytical and observational skills, to properly diagnose and treat the variety of problems their patients may face.
Other key Physiotherapist skills include:
- Ability to be a self-starter who requires minimal direction and supervision
- Ability to manage multiple priorities, projects and display flexibility in a fast paced and changing work environment
- Ability to maintain confidentiality regarding clients or family members’ status in accordance with HIPPA regulations.
How Do You Become a Physiotherapist
Education and Training
In the United States, a Physiotherapist is required to earn a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree. To be accepted in an accredited DPT program, candidates must first have completed a bachelor’s degree, usually in a related field such as biology, physiology or psychology. After that, a DPT program usually lasts 3 years, and often includes courses in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. During the DPT program, students also complete at least 30 weeks of clinical work. During clinical work, students gain experience in specific areas of physiotherapy under supervision.
After earning their DPT degree, some Physiotherapists undergo an optional clinical residency program or a fellowship to gain training and experience in a specialty area of care. After gaining at least 2,000 hours of clinical work experience and a residency program in the specialty area, Physiotherapists may become a certified specialist by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, in one of eight specialty areas (orthopedics, sports, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, neurology, cardiovascular and pulmonary). All Physiotherapists must also be licensed by the state in which they practice, which requires passing the National Physical Therapy Examination.
After becoming a licensed Physiotherapist, you will likely work in a hospital, private outpatient clinic or skilled nursing facility. Within each setting, there will be opportunities for advancement such as becoming a director or clinical manager. Some Physiotherapists may also have the opportunity to start their own private practice or become a partner.
Finding a job
The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates employment of Physiotherapists to grow by 34 percent over the next ten year, much faster than the average for all occupations. An aging population, combined with a growing number of chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, mean that there will be no shortage of demand for Physiotherapists in the coming years.
Start off your Physiotherapist job search by building an impressive resume that highlights your skills and experience. For help getting your resume just right, take a look at our library of Physiotherapist resume samples.
Your next step is to search online for Physiotherapist job opportunities. As you look for openings, try to also leverage your professional network, including people you met through school or internships.
When you’re ready to apply for a Physiotherapist job, don’t overlook the importance of a good cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you will bring to the role. For cover letter ideas, check out our collection of cover letter samples.
Insights from a Physiotherapist
To get an expert’s take on how to become a Physical Therapists, we talked to Kadeem Howell, a Doctor of Physical Therapy in New York City. Here’s what he had to say.
What is the common career path for Physiotherapists?
To become a Physical Therapist in the United States you must first complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree in any major/field of your choice. Within completing an undergraduate degree it is important to fulfill the prerequisite course work and observation hours required for a given school. After that degree you must complete 3 years of graduate school to obtain your doctorate in Physical Therapy. A doctorate is the new baseline degree to become a Physical Therapist, in the past a Bachelors or a Master’s was the minimum degree.
What should someone consider before becoming a Physiotherapist?
Someone should consider “why physical therapy is important to you?” The common answer to this question is usually “because I want to help people.” Not a bad answer, however there are multiple ways to help people, especially within healthcare. Physical therapy should mean something to you on a personal level. For example maybe a family member, a loved one, or even yourself required physical therapy, which lead you to see the benefits of the profession. Physical Therapists are usually very passionate about the field and don’t treat going to work as simply a job to pay the bills.
What type of person excels in this job?
To excel in physical therapy I believe it is important that someone is able to leave their outside life stresses at the door. What I mean by this is that if you’re having a bad day you cannot give off negative body language while working. This negative vibe will translate to the patient and effect that treatment session and the rest of the session throughout the day. Someone who is able to be fully invested into the patient standing right in front of them will be able to excel in the field.
What are some of the most important skills for Physiotherapists to have?
The most important skill a Physical Therapist can have is effective communication. Effective communication ensures that the patient is being heard and that their needs are being met. Inability to establish effective communication can negatively affect outcomes and lead to poor patient rapport.
Another important skill is to be able to show empathy and not sympathy. Chances are most people have displayed sympathy to a patient feeling sorry for them. This is usually true for a patient who is post surgical, in chronic pain, or after a traumatic accident. As Physical Therapist it is important to not fall into this trap and not feel sorry for a patient. Instead show that you understand what they are going through and explain how they are going to overcome their current obstacles. In Physical Therapist school our professors told us “patients won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Physiotherapist?
Our main goal as Physical Therapist is to have someone achieve their goal, whatever it may be. Oftentimes the goal is to get back to work, back to playing sports, and just being able to walk again. The true rewarding aspect of this profession is when you receive a follow up visit or a thank you card from a patient. This small gesture goes a long way, and makes the career come full circle.
How Much Do Physiotherapists Get Paid?
Physiotherapists are paid either an hourly or a salaried rate, depending where they work. The median annual wage in the United States for Physiotherapists is $84,020. The lowest-paid physiotherapists earned less than $57,060 a year, and the highest-paid earn more than $119,790.
Top 10 States for Physiotherapist Salary
Physiotherapists in the following states make the highest median hourly wage in the U.S.
- Alaska: $46.53
- Nevada: $46.13
- California: $45.28
- New Jersey: $44.95
- Texas: $43.80
- Mississippi: $43.04
- Maryland: $42.79
- New Mexico: $42.27
- Alabama: $41.74
- Illinois: $41.35
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a Physiotherapist, here is a list of additional resources that can help you as you continue to explore this career option.
On the Web
Modern Manual Therapy – Follow this blog to get all kinds of up-to-date information on the world of physical therapy, including seminars and podcasts.
Dr. Jarod Carter – This is an incredibly helpful bog for private practice Physiotherapists, that will walk you through the steps of setting up and running your own practice.
The Awesome Physical Therapist – This is a light-hearted blog that spills on the joys and pains of being a Physiotherapist, and includes interviews with professionals, too.
American Physical Therapy Association – The number one source for career information and industry news.
American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties – Find out more about Physiotherapist certification.
Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques, 6th Edition – Learn the essentials of physiotherapy from this text written by an expert PT.
The Physiotherapist’s Pocketbook: Essential Facts at Your Fingertips, 2e – A comprehensive reference to help you in your studies or daily practice as a Physiotherapist.
The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.