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Physical Therapists: Career, Salary and Education Information

Career Profile: What do Physical Therapists do?
Patients value physical therapists for their ability to lessen pain, improve mobility, and ease the discomfort of injuries or physical disabilities. Physical therapists are trusted to apply massages and electrical stimulation, traction, and ultrasound to patients. Patients include those with disabilities, accident victims, and those suffering from debilitating conditions.

While the physical demands of the job include heavy lifting and standing, stooping, or kneeling for long periods, the rewards are enough to keep therapists in the profession. Physical therapists enjoy the satisfaction of helping their patients live more comfortable lives.

A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist
Physical therapists often work in well-equipped hospitals, clinics, and private offices. Some may specialize in particular fields--such as sports medicine or orthopedics--or age groups, working in pediatrics or geriatrics. The job can be physically demanding because physical therapists often support patients while they stand and walk.

About 1 in 5 physical therapists worked part-time in 2006, but most worked a traditional 40-hour work week. Because some states require continuing education as a condition of maintaining professional licensure, physical therapists often split their time at work with hours in the classroom.

Physical Therapist Training and Education
Physical therapists must hold a master's degree and a state license to practice. In the future, a doctoral degree may be the required entry-level degree for employment, but for the time being, over 200 programs nationwide offer accredited degrees in physical therapy. Undergraduates are advised to complete coursework in biology, anatomy, physics, mathematics, and social science.

Coursework for physical therapists includes biomechanics, neuroanatomy, therapeutic procedures, and human growth and development. Supervised clinical experience is also a requirement for physical therapists in training. Continuing education courses and programs are often required for employed physical therapists.

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Physical Therapist Employment & Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that physical therapists held about 173,000 jobs nationwide in 2006. Some therapists work part-time in multiple locations, traveling between private practice clinics and outpatient care centers. The industry's largest employers included physical therapy offices and offices of other health practitioners, employing 50,510, and general medical and surgical hospitals, employing 46,350.

Nationwide employment of physical therapists is expected to grow 27 percent through 2016, the BLS reports. Job opportunities are expected to be better in areas with an older population. In Pierre, South Dakota for example, there is a 30 percent increase in demand for health care workers, which is expected to produce a critical need for physical therapists.

Typical Physical Therapist Salary
Physical therapists saw mean annual wages of $71,520 in 2007, according to the BLS. Mean hourly wages were $34.39. Those working in home health care services saw slightly higher earnings, at $79,300.

Sources
Argus Leader, Need for Physical Therapists growing, by Terry Woster
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Physical Therapists

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