Physical therapy means the examination, treatment and instruction of human beings to detect, assess, prevent, correct, alleviate and limit physical disability, movement dysfunction, bodily malfunction, and pain from injury, disease, and any other bodily and mental conditions. It includes the administration, interpretation, and evaluation of tests and measurements of bodily functions and structures.
Physical therapy has undergone many changes in the past eight decades. Mary McMillan introduced physical therapy in the United States around 1915 to help patients from a polio outbreak in 1914. Due to these outbreaks and a continued number of injured veterans returning from wars overseas, the demand for physical therapists increased. Today, physical therapy includes a range of patients from pediatrics to geriatrics and everything in between. Physical therapists can be certified specialists in a wide variety of categories including neurology, orthopedics, hand therapy, aquatics, and pediatrics. Physical therapists serve as a vital part of preparing the patient to return to his/her normal daily activities and are primary educators of the patients on how best to perform these activities.
The role of therapists has grown from passive assistant following physicians' orders to active participator in patient rehabilitation. Today, much of the therapy is conducted in clinics owned by therapists or therapy units where the physical therapist is in a management position. Physical therapists have worked with Physical Therapy Assistants in ways that are best for the patient, as well as cost efficient.
Job Market and Salaries
Employment of physical therapists is expected to increase 39 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for physical therapy services will come, in large part, from the aging baby boomers, who are staying active later in life than previous generations did. Older persons are more likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes, and mobility-related injuries that require physical therapy for rehabilitation. Advances in medical technology have increased the use of outpatient surgery to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. Physical therapists will continue to play an important role in helping these patients recover more quickly from surgery. Medical and technological developments also are expected to permit a greater percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care. In addition, the incidence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, has increased in recent years, and more physical therapists will be needed to help patients manage the effects of these diseases.
The median annual wage of physical therapists was $76,310 in May 2010. The median annual wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,620, and the top 10 percent earned more than $107,920.
Physical therapists are required to have a postgraduate professional degree. Physical therapy programs usually award a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, although a small number award a Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) degree. Doctoral programs typically last 3 years; MPT programs require 2 to 3 years of study. Most programs, either DPT or MPT, require a bachelor’s degree for admission, and many require specific prerequisites, such as anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry. Physical therapy students also complete clinical rotations, enabling them to gain supervised work experience in areas such as acute care and orthopedic care. Physical therapists may apply to and complete residency programs after graduation. Residencies last 9 months to 3 years and provide additional training and experience in advanced or specialty areas of care. All states require physical therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state but typically include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination or a similar state-administered exam. A number of states require continuing education for physical therapists to keep their license.
Program & Requirements
Admission to Physical Therapy is highly competitive for Pacific students as well as others. Pre-Physical Therapy requirements, like pre-medical requirements, concentrate in the sciences. Pacific’s Physical Therapy School has always valued proficiency in writing and a strong education in the humanities and social sciences.
Students do not major in “pre-physical therapy.” Students must complete a bachelor’s degree before beginning the Physical Therapy program. The suggested course sequence outlined below is for students completing the bachelor’s degree before admission to the School of Physical Therapy.
Competition for entrance into physical therapist education programs is very intense, so interested students should attain superior grades, especially in science courses. The prerequisites vary among schools. All courses must be completed with a grade of C or higher.Biology (12 hours)
Biol 202 General Biology I or Biol 204 General Biology II
Biol 224 Human Anatomy with lab
Biol 240 Human Physiology with lab
Chem 220 and 230Statistics (2 hours)
Math 207, Psych 350, or Soc 301Physics (8 hours)
Physics 202 and 204 or Physics 232 and 242Psychology (6 hours)
Psy 150 (Intro) and one other psychology courseEnglish/Writing (6 hours)
Must include one writing course beyond the introductory
Level (ENGW 201 or higher)
Note: May use HUM 100 (FYS)
This can be satisfied by carefully selected core requirements.
Fine Arts, humanities, history, philosophy, religion, English, anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, economics, music, speech/communication foreign language (any level), theatre, women’s studies, etc. Note: May use HUM 100 (FYS)
Most schools require extensive volunteer or paid work experience. A bare minimum is usually 100 hours, but many look for 1000 hours or more.
Many schools require or highly recommend that at least one of the applicant's letters of recommendation be written by a physical therapist with whom the applicant has worked. Many schools of physical therapy also require GRE scores.