Physical therapy — also called physiotherapy, — is one among many medical professions to choose from. Physical therapy is a compilation of rehabilitative efforts that aim to restore function to body parts with limited or no mobility. It shares much in common with occupational therapy, but is a different form of therapy and a different profession. Those considering going to school for occupational therapy will often consider a career in PT as an alternative to getting certified for OT.
Ask yourself the following generalized questions to help you decide if a career in physical therapy is the best fit for you personally:
- How long are you willing to go to school?
- What wage do you need to be making to feel comfortable?
- What type of working conditions or environments do you like?
- What types of classes do you excel in? Which do you struggle with?
- What are your short-term/long-term career goals?
Whether or not you should become a physical therapist ultimately depends on your career goals, the amount of effort you are willing to put in, your financial situation, and your personal situation as a whole. This article is designed to help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing a career in physical therapy.
Pros of Being a Physical Therapist
If you are debating on whether or not to pursue a career in physical therapy, you will want to consider the pros.
1. High Average Pay
In 2020, the average physical therapist salary came in at a median of $88,110 annually, with the bottom 10% making just under $75,000, and the top-tier earners making just over $100,000. To put it into perspective, the average physical therapist aide’s salary comes in at around $57,000 annually.
However, the exact amount one is paid will vary depending on their level of education, specialization, years of experience, and the state where the physical therapist is licensed.
Since physical therapists are able to create their own schedules — if need be — they could carve out time in their schedule for side jobs to bring in additional income alongside their normal therapy hours.
2. Work-Life Balance
Most physical therapists work independently. This allows them to work as they please, or as necessary. Although this requires self-efficacy, it also gives individuals a career opportunity that offers flexibility for work-life balance. If you work in a clinical or hospital setting this may not be the case for you, but in most cases, you are able to pick and choose times like loading up hours on a Monday, or making a Friday a half-day, etc.
3. In-Demand Career
Even with artificial intelligence and automation on the rise, physical therapists will always have a job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for physical therapists is expected to grow at a rate of 22% by 2028. This is a much faster rate than the national average.
4. Variety of Working Environments
A physical therapist can work in a variety of medical spaces, this includes:
- Rehabilitation centers;
- Gyms/fitness centers;
- Nursing homes.
Physical therapy careers are not limited to one work setting. License holders can choose to work where they consider convenient for them. In addition, they get to interact with different kinds of patients from adults and children to people who are suffering from various conditions. This exposure that stems from working with a variety of people in a variety of medical environments can help a physical therapist hone and enhance their craft.
5. Medical Knowledge and Creativity
Physical therapists need a complex understanding of how the body functions in order to mitigate various rehabilitative approaches to healing. It is a highly respected career choice because of this. Physical therapists creatively come up with new and innovative approaches to body recovery based on their medical knowledge, and what they have been instructed to do within the curricula. This sense of freedom is mentally stimulating and entices many individuals.
6. Job Satisfaction
Physical therapy often will give a greater sense of job satisfaction than other occupations since you are working directly with people, and the success of your work is easily measurable. Since the type of injury and type of patient varies from day-to-day, the work also remains mentally challenging and decreases the chances of burnout by varying so much.
7. Entrepreneurial Opportunities
If you have enough capital, or you are able to secure a large enough loan, you can open your own practice as a physical therapist. When you own your own practice, you take on more risk, but you also generally yield higher returns than working under another physical therapist or institution.
Cons of Being a Physical Therapist
Although many believe the pros outweigh the cons, it is important to be aware of the cons associated with becoming a physical therapist.
1. Extensive Education Requirements
In order to become a physical therapist, you must attain a Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy (DPT). This program generally takes a minimum of three years to complete. You also need to consider that is after an individual has graduated from a 4-year bachelor’s program. This generally means seven or more years participating in labs and clinical practice alongside taking classes like:
Most occupations outside of the medical realm only require a bachelor’s degree program for educational requirements. These programs generally take between three to four years to complete in contrast to physical therapists needing to take between seven to eight years to complete education requirements. If the education requirements are a little much, but you still want to work in a similar sphere, you may want to consider becoming a physical therapist assistant or an occupational therapy assistant. Although both offer a career path that requires less initial schooling, the functions of OTAs and PTAs are different in several ways.
When you need to attend school for a long period of time, you also need to consider that additional schooling is going to cost more money. Some individuals may be the perfect candidate for becoming a physical therapist, but unable to cover the costs associated with schooling.
2. Demanding Work
A job as a physical therapist is demanding both physically and mentally. As a physical therapist, you are on your feet the majority of the day. You are helping individuals regain physical capabilities, and doing so requires you to be able to model what you are asking the patients to do. You may also need to help individuals perform what you are asking them to do. This could be as simple as providing a little support in performing a rehabilitative exercise, to acting as a literal crutch in other situations. In order to do this properly, and remain safe while doing so, you need to be physically fit. In order to support your body properly, you are supposed to get enough sleep, eat well, and exercise. After a physically demanding day at work, this can be hard to do.
Physical therapy can also be mentally draining; this is aside from how being drained physically can affect your mental health. Rehabilitative work requires a lot of patience. You need to be able to remain calm, collected, and encouraging when individuals are angry, frustrated, sad, and giving up. You cannot get angry, or tell individuals to simply get over things; you need to work with them at their pace while encouraging and pushing them. You will be faced with difficult patients and this can be a huge stressor for your mental well-being.
3. Maintaining Licensure
As stated above, in order for a physical therapist to practice, they need to have obtained a license that allows them to practice within a specific state. However, this license has to be renewed every two years so that one can continue practicing. Continuing education requirements vary by state, and they can also vary depending on your employer. It is also worth noting that maintaining licensure and/or certification is a requirement of most medical professions, not just physical therapists.
License holders that need to renew their licenses need to be aware of new treatment procedures and new regulations. License renewal applicants may need to attend training before going to renew their license; either in person or online. If one does not renew the license, they will not be allowed to practice. License renewal requirements will also vary if you renew your license prior to expiration.
4. Insurance Rules and Regulations
Most of the patients that physical therapists see will come in by referral from a doctor or clinic. This will generally be covered by insurance, but you need to be aware of the policies and guidelines for what care is covered, and what needs to be paid out of pocket. This can be difficult to keep up with, especially if you own your own small practice.