A Career in Physical Therapy

Five years ago, when I made the decision to go back to college, it was with the goal of achieving my Masters in Physical Therapy. At the time a Masters degree was all that was required, though it was known that the requirement was shifting toward a Doctorate. Now, several universities offer a combined 3.5 year Masters/Doctorate program for Physical Therapy, including Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Any Bachelor degree qualifies for entry into the program with the proper grade point average, but I have chosen Life Science to include the anatomy and biology courses I expect to be required. Even though striving for a Doctorate part time is a long process, I expect the job market for Physical Therapy to be wide open. A large population is constantly getting older, getting injured, and or doing more ‘extreme’ pastimes.
However, as the career is not a physically demanding one on the part of the therapist, I believe one could practice for 30 to 50 years if mental acuity allows. As such, when I do get my degree, I will be starting out in competition against professionals who have held their position for 10 years or more. While the career is not overly physically demanding, mental and emotional stress are incredibly prevalent. As with any medical profession, continuing education will be non-stop, and often expensive. Emotionally, I will need to be able to motivate and support individuals constantly on the verge of giving up. My job will not just be to direct exercises, but to convince my patients they should and can. There is a saying around therapy offices,”No one does their exercises, everyone lies about it.” I expect there will be days I will want to give up on my patients, just as they have given up on themselves.

The goal of my research is not just to discover the answers I don’t know, but also to confirm the information that I think I do know. To discover want I need to know, I will use the swiftly expanding repository of all American knowledge, the internet. I have reviewed legitimate sites to be able to gather information about my chosen profession; For example, reviewing websites from Physical Therapy practices. I also reviewed college sites that are offering Physical Therapy degrees and took a look at the educational requirements. Any type of medical or regulatory board for national Physical Therapy requirements and licensing has been reviewed, along with their ethical code. I have reviewed the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to best identify current national trends in the field. I have also identified what corporations offer physical therapy to the public, and have reviewed what they are looking for in their corporate physical therapist employees. I believe this strategy will best inform me of how to pursue, how to achieve, and where to go with my Physical Therapist Doctorate to achieve my corporate career.
According to the Physical Therapist Licensing Requirements, only degrees from “CAPTE accredited schools” are recognized as legitimate for educational requirements (Licensing). Luckily, with the nationwide regulation of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), any university that offers a PT Doctorate program is evaluated by CAPTE. Qualifying for entry into a PT program requires a baccalaureate degree, with “no preference given to any particular baccalaureate degree” (DeRos); as long as in my studies I manage to cover the specified sciences to the specified levels. Both NAU and Mayo College of Medicine have programs listed at 33 months, though at 20 hours fall and spring. The program specifically prepares you to take the national licensure examination (Hollman). The cost of these programs are staggering; with the lowest starting at $10,000, ranging all the way up to $78,678 just for tuition, never mind lab, book, or living cost. The average one can expect to pay just for the Doctorate portion of their schooling is $25,000 to $30,000.
One specific career path I looked into was the Navy. Though the pay for Naval Officers is at the low end of average for physical therapists, full medical, dental, housing allowance, and the respect due an officer is standard. Aside from the usual benefits associated with military service, the navy also offers advancement “through experience, training and continuing education” (Navy). This means that even if I decide to leave the military after my mandatory 3 years, I will be able to present an extensive résumé to any civilian corporation. However, the limited number of the highly sought after positions in the Navel Medical Program makes the high competition for the position discouraging. Still, a full ride at US Army-Baylor University where I am actually paid “$43,000 annually” (Navy) to attend is well worth the striving when compared to the costs of other institutions.
Though presently only a Masters degree is required to qualify as a practicing physical therapist (Bureau), it is the stated vision of the American Physical Therapy Association that “by 2020, physical therapy will be provided by (those) who are doctors of physical therapy” (http://www.apta.org). So even current licensed practitioners will be required to achieve their doctorate by 2020, or lose their license. While it is stated that all licensed physical therapists are responsible for continuing education and participation in ongoing research, no minimum hours of education or research are noted; rather, continued education will be proven through periodic reevaluation by CAPTE as a requirement to maintain licensure (http://www.apta.org).
With an ever increasing elderly population, the popularity of ‘extreme’ sports and pastimes, and the general increase in awareness of health and liability the continued demand for physical therapists in the future is ensured. In fact, demand is expected to grow as much as 27% over the next 10 years, much higher than average (Bureau). Part of this growth will be spurred by advances in other medical areas; as trauma and accident survival increases, so too will the needs for recovery specialists (Bureau). The numbers seeking employment are expected to keep pace with the demand for practitioners, with the highest demand in the densely populated eastern states. The average annual salary for physical therapists as of May 2007 was $71,520 (Bureau).
One aspect that surprised me was the variety of specialty certifications available in the Physical Therapy profession. However, when searching on corporate sites such as Spooner, they have listed such specialty certificates as hand, orthopedic, sportsmetrics, and geriatrics specialties (Spooner). Such certifications are offered as continuing education from specialty clinics such as Therapeutic Associates (TAI). Such clinics are expensive, $700.00 for a weekend session, and often required travel, as the Sportsmetric clinic is only available in Oregon (TAI). Such classes should “not be taken by individuals who are not licensed” and are not subsidized by the employer (TAI). Still, these certificates are necessary to be competitive in the job market, as corporations hire based solely on the strength of the resume, without listing desires or requirements (Spooner)
There is no real advancement or career path as a physical therapist. You can head up a clinic, but at that point you are more an administrator then a practitioner. You can teach clinics or classes, but then you are more an educator. Rather, the level of a physical therapist is determined by education, certification, and experience. Salaries are weighted according to these three criteria, the heaviest weight given to experience. A beginning practitioner may expect to earn only $51,000.00 annually, far less than the “$75,000 for physical therapists with more than 15 years of experience” (DeRos).
There are several points to pursuing a career as a physical therapist that I find discouraging; the major one being time. 20 credit hours a semester is a tough load for a fulltime student, impossible for one that also has to work full time to help support a family. I am already 30, earning my bachelorette and doctorate at half time will likely take me 9 years to complete. I do worry about entering a new career at a perceivably advanced age. Of course the cost is enough to give anyone pause. I will likely have to take out large student loans to afford my classes, and then hope I am able to pass so that I will be able to pay them off. Finally, the difficulty of the classes themselves worries me. I have never attempted anything as advanced as these classes, and the prospect is a bit intimidating. If I do manage to pass, however, my future seems both bright and secure. I will make a comfortable living, be able to support my family, and practice in a field I love.
Research for this project seemed fairly straight forward. I would gather a list of 20 or more reputable sites, based on who maintained the site, and pick out the ten or so best ones based on the information they contained. I started with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and expected to be led to several sources from there. I was led to the American Physical Therapy Association, which was the central repository for all things Physical Therapy in the United States that I was hoping to find. From there, I found the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education and every university website I might need, but came to a dead end as far as actual career information. The BLS had all the statistics, APTA had all the direct information and everything was just that centralized. Any site I went to for more information only had a general description and a link to APTA. Even the business and corporate sites I went to recommended APTA for more information. Corporations like Spooner Physical Therapy and Therapeutic Associates I found because I am specifically looking to work for a corporation rather than be independent, and the Navy I only knew to look into because I am already doing so. As I reviewed the sites, if a regulatory commission was mentioned, I looked to see if they had a site. This did lead me to a couple more places for specific information, but was not quite the web-ring I expected to find. Still, I did find all the information I was looking for, and am confident I now can find anything I might need to know in the future. I would have liked to interview a practicing physical therapist. I really feel that many of the experience aspects of the career can only be express from a person. I also wish the human resources departments of Spooner and TA would have contacted me back. Overall, I have a yellow light for the pursuit of the degree; proceed, but with caution; and for the career, a green light all the way.

Licensing Requirements By State. Retrieved February 21, 2009 from www.visalaw.com/IMG/charts.html
DeRos, Carl. Admission Requirements for NAU Physical Therapy. Retrieved February 28, 2009 from http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~pt-p/programs/dpt/prereqs.php
Hollman, John. Physical Therapy Doctoral Program for Mayo College of Medicine.(2009) Retrieved February 28, 2009 from http://www.mayo.edu/mshs/pt-career.html
Health Care Careers for U.S. Navy. Retrieved February 28, 2009 from http://www.navy.com/careers/healthcare/medicalservicecorps/clinicalcareproviders/physicaltherapy/
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition. Retrieved February 21, 2009 from http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos080.htm
Spooner Career Center (2008) Retrieved February 21, 2009 from http://spoonerphysicaltherapy.com/careers.html
Continuing Education for Therapeutic Associates. Retrieved February 21, 2009 from http://www.therapeuticassociates.com/Education/
Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education: CAPTE Accreditation (2007) Retrieved February 21, 2009 from https://capteportal.capteonline.org/Pages/Login.aspx
Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy Retrieved February 21, 2009 from http://www.fsbpt.org/