Which physical therapy career path is right for you?

Which Physical Therapy Career Path is Right for You?

Check out these 6 great settings where you can thrive as a physical therapist.

Physical therapy is a quickly growing field, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a 25% increase in jobs between 2016 and 2026. Professionals in this sector may treat patients recovering from surgeries, strokes, broken bones, or a vast number of other conditions.

With so many types of physical therapy and client needs, it makes sense that physical therapist career paths are highly varied. The options below list some common settings where physical therapists can be found and what each type of physical therapy entails to help you decide where you belong.


1. Acute Care

Acute care physical therapy focuses on hospitalized patients in need of short-term care, including those recovering from surgery and victims of automobile accidents. In this fast-paced setting, the goal is to move patients to outpatient care as quickly as possible. There is a much stronger emphasis on assistive device usage and patients’ functional statuses.

One benefit of working in acute care physical therapy is a lack of monotony. With a high case turnover rate and demand from several hospital sectors—including the Intensive Care, Behavioral Health, and Orthopedics Units—acute care physical therapists can count on workdays that are both lively and well paid.


Physical therapy rehabilitation centers offer great opportunities for physical therapists


2. Rehabilitation Centers/Hospitals

Physical therapy rehabilitation centers provide high-intensity care. Patients are admitted to these specialized facilities after serious illness or injury if they are able to tolerate several hours of therapy per day. This can be a great place to start for physical therapists looking to expand their expertise in multiple different types of patient care (orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, etc.).

These programs are not only taxing for patients, but also for the physical therapists working there. Physical therapy rehabilitation centers are likely to need their staff during weekends and holidays in addition to regular hours. And of all physical therapist career options, rehabilitation can be one of the most physically demanding. However, for young, energetic new graduates, rehabilitation centers may be the perfect opportunity to get started in your field.


3. Private Practices

Another popular physical therapy career path, private physical therapy is practiced in outpatient settings  and offers a less intensive option to rehabilitation centers. Depending on the clinic, these facilities may offer very general or highly specialized services.

Many professionals choose a private physical therapy setting to gain more control over their environment. Private practices have been known to give their employees a voice in everything from music to treatment policies. Unfortunately, however, the flexibility of your work schedule is likely to depend on the relative size of the practice. In smaller clinics, it may be more difficult to coordinate coverage for time off.


Physical therapy in a school setting is another great career path


4. Schools

If you enjoy working with children, you should consider practicing physical therapy in a school setting. Professionals in this role are integral for maximizing students’ ability to function and succeed in the regular classroom with their peers. At the high school and college level, sports physical therapists help students get in shape and assist with injury assessment and treatment when necessary.

Physical therapists working in a school setting aren’t just playing with kids all day, however. Compared to other pediatric contexts, schools necessitate more paperwork. There are also lengthy meetings with parents and teachers, tight budgets, and prohibitive bureaucracies to contend with.


5. Industrial and Occupational Environments

Jobs in industrial physical therapy are most prevalent in large companies, where physical therapists help employees avoid and recover from workplace injuries. Depending on the corporation, you might also perform ergonomic assessments, recommend changes to the office to improve wellness, or even handle non-work-related conditions.

The key to success in the industrial physical therapy sector is precise recordkeeping. If the condition you are treating is the result of a work-related accident, your paperwork may become essential if the injured party files a lawsuit.


Working as a research physical therapist will keep you on the cutting edge


6. Research Institutions

For those considering a non-clinical physical therapist career, the research field is a great opportunity. In this environment, research physical therapists perform studies and analyze data to improve current practices and help guide patient care policies. They are at the cutting edge of new knowledge and practices in their sector. Many research physical therapists are employed by universities and utilize the institution’s facilities to conduct their studies.

Duties involved in a research-based role may include writing grants, planning and implementing studies, collecting data, and composing reports of your findings. If you are working in higher education, you will also be expected to teach up-and-coming physical therapists.


The list above may highlight some more common physical therapist career options, but the physical therapy career path you choose is up to you. There are many great opportunities out there. Make sure you take time to consider how different types of physical therapy, particular environments, and certain workplace cultures can help you reach your professional goals…then go find your dream physical therapy job!

By Erin Coursey, iHire | February 20, 2018
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