Physical Therapist Education and Career Pathway

By | July 16, 2023
Physical Therapist Education
Physical therapists need to have the right education and certification to be successful in their career.

This post provides detailed information on the physical therapist education and career, including the certifications and qualities you need to have to become a successful physical therapist.

Please, read on:   

Why Choose Physical Therapist Career?

The career of a physical therapist is one that can be pursued for many reasons. Some people are drawn to this profession because they enjoy helping others and making a difference in peoples’ lives.

Others may choose it because they want to make a living while working with their hands.

And yet others may choose to become a physical therapist because they have a passion for science and medicine. Whatever your reason for choosing PT, you can find a rewarding career path.

Physical Therapist Education Requirements

To become a physical therapist, you must complete a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited institution.

You should then earn a Master’s degree in Physical Therapy from an accredited school. After completing these requirements, you will need to pass the National Board Exam (NBE) to obtain your license to practice physical therapy. 

Physical Therapist Continuing Education

Once licensed, physical therapists are required to take continuing education courses every two years to stay up-to-date on current practices and techniques.

The American Physical Therapy Association offers a variety of free online continuing education courses. These courses cover topics such as:

  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Exercise Science
  • Health Psychology
  • Human Movement Sciences
  • Injury Prevention

Physical Therapist Certifications/Licenses

Here are the types of licenses available to physical therapists:

  1. Certified athletic trainer and orthopedic specialist

Certified athletic trainers and orthopedic specialists must meet specific educational requirements and pass a national certification exam before obtaining their license.

2. Licensed practical nurse

Licensed practical nurses must meet specific educational requirements, pass a national licensing exam, and receive additional training in order to receive their license.

All types of licenses require renewal every five years. 

Certifications for physical therapists include:

  • American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM)
  • American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS)
  • American Board for Certification in Sports Medicine (ABCSM)
  • American Board of Medical Rehabilitation (AMBR)
  • American Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (ABCOT)
  • American Board in Physical Therapy (ABPT)

Physical Therapist Career Pathways

Career opportunities in physical therapy vary greatly depending on where you live. In some areas, there are plenty of job openings, while in other regions there are few positions available.

If you’re interested in pursuing a particular specialty within the field, we suggest looking into the following options:

  • Acute Care
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports Medicine
  • Trauma
  • Women Health
  • Wound Management

How to Advance your Physical Therapist Career

Professionals can grow their professions by gaining field experience, getting certifications, and furthering their postsecondary education to improve their management skills.

Therapists can also connect with organizations to take part in professional development opportunities and network with other professionals to learn about employment openings and receive referrals.

In the following sections, we’ll go through each of these options in further detail.

  1. Residency or Fellowship

If you want to work in a certain area of specialization, consider going through a residency or fellowship program.

Residencies typically last one year while fellowships may be longer, both programs offer hands-on clinical experiences that help therapists develop new skills and gain valuable knowledge in their chosen fields.

2. Continuing Education Courses

Continuing education is an important aspect of any career, but it’s especially true for those who work in healthcare.

By taking classes related to your profession, you can keep yourself updated on the latest trends and developments in your field.

This will allow you to stay ahead of the curve when it comes time to apply for jobs and advance your career.

3. Online Courses

Online courses provide another way to expand your knowledge base without having to leave home.

There are many different online institutions providing continuing education courses.

4. Networking

Networking is an essential skill for anyone seeking employment. It helps you make connections with potential employers and build relationships with colleagues.

When you have a strong network, you can leverage this resource to find more opportunities as well as get connected with people who can refer you to future positions.

More on How to Advance your Physical Therapist Career

5. Volunteering

Volunteering is another great way to get involved in your community and meet like-minded individuals.

You can volunteer at local hospitals, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers to give back to society and increase your chances of landing a position.

6. Internships

Internships are a great way to gain real world experience and put what you’ve learned into practice. They often lead to full-time employment after graduation.

How to find a Good Physical Therapist School

Finding the right school for physical therapy can be difficult. The first step in finding a good school is to determine if you need a graduate degree or a Bachelor’s degree.

Graduates must complete four years of schooling before they can sit for the licensing exam required to become a licensed therapist.

Bachelor’s degree holders only need to complete two years of schooling.

The second step is to choose between public and private schools. Public schools tend to cost less than private schools, but they aren’t always better.

Private schools usually have a smaller student body, which means there might not be enough students to ensure personal attention from instructors.

The third step is to look at accreditation. Accrediting agencies like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) oversee standards of quality within various professions.

These organizations ensure that graduates receive high quality training and that schools maintain rigorous academic standards.

Ask friends and family members about their experiences attending specific programs. They may know someone currently enrolled in a program or have attended themselves.

Lastly, check online databases such as Doximity, PTCinfo, and Vitals to see how other therapists rated the program.

These sites collect information from previous graduates and current employees of a particular institution.

How to be Successful in your Physical Therapist Career

Here are ideas to apply to be successful in your physical therapist career:

  1. Be Dedicated

Dedication is one of the most important traits you can possess as a physical therapist.

Your dedication will help you overcome obstacles along the way and reach your goals.

If you’re dedicated to your job, you’ll be able to work hard and stick to your routine even when things don’t go according to plan.

2. Have Integrity

Integrity is another trait you should strive to develop throughout your physical therapist career.

Having integrity means being honest and treating others with respect. Being trustworthy is also a big part of having integrity.

3. Build Relationships

Relationship is key to success in any profession, including physical therapy.

As a physical therapist, it’s important to establish a relationship with patients, co-workers, supervisors, and clients.

This helps build trust and ensures that everyone is working towards the same goal.

4. Stay Organized

Being organized is essential to success in any field. It allows you to stay focused and avoid distractions while completing tasks. You should also keep track of deadlines so you don’t miss them.

5. Keep Learning 

Never stop learning! Whether you’re an intern, a new grad, or a seasoned professional, you should continue to learn new skills and techniques.

This keeps you up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry and helps you provide the best care possible. 

What does a Physical Therapist do?

A physical therapist works closely with doctors and other health professionals to treat people who have injuries, illnesses, disabilities, or diseases.

Their primary focus is to restore function and mobility to those who suffer from these conditions.

A physical therapist uses many different tools and methods to accomplish this task. Here are some examples of what a physical therapist does:

  • Treats patients with orthopedic problems such as broken bones, sprains, and dislocations
  • Provides rehabilitation services to improve movement and reduce pain
  • Assists individuals with neurological disorders such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and cerebral palsy
  • Evaluates and treats patients with musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and fibromyalgia
  • Administers treatments for sports injuries such as ACL tears, rotator cuff tears, and shoulder impingement
  • Conducts strength training exercises to increase muscle mass and endurance
  • Performs manual therapy techniques such as joint mobilization, soft tissue massage, trigger point therapy, and myofascial release.

See detailed physical therapist job description.

Qualities of a Good Physical Therapist

Here are qualities to have to be a good physical therapist:

  1. Knowledgeable about anatomy and physiology

As a physical therapist, you must know how the body functions and why certain movements occur.

For example, you need to understand how muscles move and why they contract and relax.

You also need to understand the effects of gravity on joints and ligaments.

In addition, you need to know how nerves and blood vessels work together to allow us to perform everyday activities.

2. Empathetic

As a physical therapist, you need to be able to empathize with your patient. You need to put yourself in their shoes and understand where they are coming from.

By doing this, you can better help them reach their goals.

3. Honest

You need to be honest with your patients. They deserve to hear the truth, even if it hurts at times.

Your honesty will show your commitment to helping them achieve their goals.

4. Dedicated

You need to be dedicated to your job. If you aren’t passionate about what you do, then you won’t be effective in treating your patients.

5. Positive attitude 

Your positive attitude will make your patients feel comfortable around you. When you are happy, your patients will be happier too.

6. Professional

To be professional in your job as a physical therapist means you have to be organized, punctual, and respectful.

Being professional also means following all the rules set by your employer and adhering to all laws and regulations.

Physical Therapist Salary

Physical therapists earned a median annual salary of $91,010 in May 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Physical Therapist Job Outlook

Physical therapists’ employment is expected to go up by 21% between 2020 and 2030, substantially faster than the average for all occupations.

Over the next ten years, there are expected to be over 15,600 opportunities for physical therapists.

Many of these jobs will be created as a result of the need to replace workers who move jobs or leave the workforce for other reasons, such as retirement.


Physical therapists provide services that improve the quality of life for many people.

As technology advances, so does the scope of physical therapy practice; The future looks bright for physical therapists!

This post has provided complete information about the education, certification, qualities, etc. that you need to have to be successful in your physical therapist career.