Physical Therapists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

While you are in high school you can begin to prepare for this career by taking college preparatory classes, preferably advanced placement or honors courses to be a more competitive applicant. Your course work should include biology, chemistry, physics, health, and mathematics. Because so much of this work involves direct contact with clients, you should improve your people skills as well as your communication skills by taking psychology, sociology, and English classes.

Postsecondary Training

Physical therapists attain their professional skills through extensive education that takes place both in the classroom and in clinical settings. You should attend a school accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) to receive the most thorough education. CAPTE now only accredits schools offering postbaccalaureate degrees (master's and doctorate degrees), and you will need one of these degrees to practice physical therapy. Previously, CAPTE had accredited bachelor's degree programs. However, around the end of the 1990s, the bachelor's degree in physical therapy was slowly replaced by master's and doctorate physical therapy degrees. This change was made to give students an appropriate amount of time to study liberal arts as well as a physical therapy curriculum.  Clinical experience is done as supervised fieldwork in such settings as hospitals, home care agencies, and nursing homes.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Upon graduating from an accredited physical therapy educational program, all physical therapists must successfully complete a national examination. Other licensing requirements vary by state. You will need to check with the licensing board of the state in which you hope to work for specific information.

Specialist certification of physical therapists, while not a requirement for employment, is a desirable advanced credential. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, an appointed group of the American Physical Therapy Association, certifies physical therapists who demonstrate specialized knowledge and advanced clinical proficiency in a specialty area of physical therapy practice and who pass a certifying examination. The nine areas of specialization are cardiovascular and pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, neurology, oncology, orthopedics, pediatrics, sports, women's health, and wound management.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Physical therapy students should obtain as much experience in the field as possible by participating in clinical practicums, summer internships, and part-time jobs at hospitals, offices of physicians, and other organizations that employ physical therapists.

Successful physical therapists enjoy working with people and helping others to feel better, both physically and emotionally. They need creativity and patience to determine a treatment plan for each client and to help them achieve treatment goals. Physical therapists must also be committed to lifelong learning because new developments in technology and medicine mean that therapists must continually update their knowledge. It is also a plus to have a positive attitude and an outgoing personality.