Starting a career in physical therapy is like climbing a tree. Everyone starts with the same trunk, but quickly, you have to make some decisions about which way you are going to go. What kind of people do you want to work with? Where do you want to practice? And how far up the tree do you want to climb? You will get to grow professionally – learning more and maybe even improving your sales and business skills, but that’s not all. Physical therapy gives you a chance to grow personally too.
Pick your people
You can pick the type of people you want to work with – sports physical therapists work with athletes, helping them recover from injuries and improve performance through exercise and hands-on techniques. Geriatric physical therapists work with seniors on mobility problems, pain or managing chronic conditions. Pediatric physical therapists work with infants and children providing developmental assessments and helping them improve their gross motor skills.
Pick your place
You can also pick where you work – there are physical therapy jobs in nursing homes, hospitals, outpatient clinics and schools. Physical therapists provide care wherever people need it. So far, we have only mentioned the more common places you will find physical therapists – if you want to specialize further, you may find yourself working only in the ICU with critical care patients, in a factory doing industrial rehabilitation and ergonomics, in a women’s health clinic, or even working in a preventative, public health role.
Most physical therapy careers start in a general role, working with all types of different patients. If you work in a large health system, you may even rotate between settings. But as you find the type of people you like to work with and the setting you prefer, you have the option to improve your skills and focus on a specialty area of practice. Again, you have lots of options on how to do this. You could:
- Take an internship position or join a fellowship program
- Attend workshops or conferences
- Read journals and textbooks
- Collaborate with your colleagues and mentors
- Take courses in other areas of medicine
- Study abroad or take courses online
Your clinical skills are not the only thing a career in physical therapy can grow though – you will grow personally as well. You have to learn to have compassion and empathy when you work with ill or injured people. You have to work as a part of a team. You need sales skills – most people are not going to want to make changes in their routines or do the exercises you prescribe at home. You will learn to work with people who have different opinions and different viewpoints from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds.
You may also have a chance to improve your business skills. You could advance out of the clinical setting and into a management role. Some physical therapists start their own practices, or a company in a field related to physical therapy like wellness, performance, injury prevention or population health for large corporations.
Wherever you start in physical therapy, you will have a lot of options on where you end up. Chances are you will explore more than one branch of the physical therapy tree. That is not a problem, having the chance to grow and change is part of what makes physical therapist so exciting! Visit the apta.org to learn more about this wonderful profession. You will love it!