Physical Therapist Job Description

Physical therapists use therapeutic treatments to help patients improve movement and body functions, increase strength and coordination, and relieve pain. Hospitals, hospices, nursing homes, and treatment centers hire physical therapists to work part- and full-time hours during day and evening shifts that can include weekends. Physical therapists work independently but function as part of a treatment team. Some physical therapists make home or hospital visits, so some travel may be necessary.


Physical Therapist Duties and Responsibilities

Job duties performed by physical therapists vary on a day-to-day basis depending on the employing facility and the injuries or illnesses being treated. Despite those variables, these core duties are common across all work environments:

Evaluate Patients

Physical therapists evaluate patients individually to determine strength and mobility issues, pain problems, and treatment needs.

Develop Treatment Plans

Physical therapists develop treatment plans for patients based on their care needs and current physical abilities.

Administer Treatment

Physical therapists treat patients following a physician’s orders and using various therapeutic techniques to resolve strength, mobility, and functionality issues. This includes applying therapeutic massage techniques to patient problem areas to provide pain relief.

Collaborate with Treatment Teams

Physical therapists collaborate with the rest of the treatment team to verbally report patient progress and ongoing treatment needs.

Schedule Appointments

Physical therapists schedule patient appointments.

Maintain Equipment and Treatment Rooms

Physical therapists maintain treatment equipment and keep all treatment areas clean and organized. This includes replacing equipment and therapeutic tools as needed.

Update Patient Files

Physical therapists add notes to patient files regarding performance, progress, and treatment needs. They use these notes to write reports that they share with the rest of the treatment team.

Demonstrate Use of Tools

Physical therapists demonstrate the proper methods for using therapeutic tools and mobility aids, such as crutches, wheelchairs, and walking canes.


Physical Therapist Skills and Qualifications

Physical therapists use interpersonal skills and therapeutic treatment methods to help patients overcome illnesses and injuries while maintaining compassion and authority at all times. Employers hire physical therapists who display the following skills:

  • Critical thinking – physical therapists design treatment plans and make adjustments to treatment techniques to suit each patient’s specific needs, which requires good critical thinking skills
  • Interpersonal skills – physical therapists must build trusting but authoritative relationships with patients, which takes excellent interpersonal skills
  • Physical fitness – physical therapists need strength and endurance to demonstrate techniques and physically assist patients throughout treatment
  • Communication skills – physical therapists use written and verbal communication skills to collaborate with treatment teams and to direct and encourage patients
  • Leadership – good leadership skills are a must-have for physical therapists, who must instruct patients and help them push themselves to their physical limits without letting them go too far


Tools of the Trade

Physical therapists work regularly with the following tools:

  • Strength-building tools (weights, resistance, bands)
  • Walking aids (crutches, braces, canes)
  • Sports equipment (bars, beams, balls, mats)


Physical Therapist Education and Training

Most employers require physical therapists to have at least a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy. A master’s degree is highly desired by employers. Physical therapists must also have a current license to practice physical therapy in their state of employment. Some employers additionally ask that physical therapists have CPR certification, which can be obtained after completing a simple training course. Physical therapist candidates must be able to pass a background check and should have a valid driver’s license.

Little if any job training is provided to newly hired physical therapists, who already have the education and knowledge needed to perform their basic job functions.


Physical Therapist Salary and Outlook

Physical therapists earn a median annual salary of $86,850, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Jobs in this career field are growing at a rate that is much faster than the national average, with the BLS predicting a job increase of 28 percent through 2026.

Full-time physical therapists receive benefits packages that include 401(k) retirement plans and health insurance coverage. Paid vacation days, holidays, and sick days are usually included in standard benefits packages. Many employers also offer license renewal reimbursement so physical therapists can keep their certifications current at no personal cost.


Helpful Resources

Use these resources to find physical therapy jobs, learn career strategies, and discover networking events and other opportunities for success:

Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education – this website is full of information about accreditation programs for physical therapists, with links to programs by state and resources for students and researchers

Acute Care Handbook for Physical Therapists – use this handbook to learn more about lab tests, diagnostics strategies, and other skills physical therapists need to know

American Health Care Association – find professional events, job opportunities, news updates, and research information at this website for all healthcare professionals

Functional Anatomy for Physical Therapists – learn more about the anatomy of the human body to better understand the mechanics of movement with this book, which was written for physical therapists

American Physical Therapy Association – explore job opportunities, find career development resources, and stay up to date on upcoming networking events at the APTA website

Mechanisms and Management of Pain for the Physical Therapist – this book explains basic concepts of pain management for physical therapists. The text includes case studies, movement mechanisms, and other job tips


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