Lately I have been getting a lot of questions from students regarding whether or not they should pursue physical therapy over another profession, or if it is the right fit for them. With all of the different healthcare options out there (MD/DO, PA, RN, NP, OT, etc.), I decided to share why I personally chose the wonderful field of physical therapy! If you are struggling with deciding if PT is right for you, hopefully this post will be helpful! If you are already secure or established in your career-path, you should still stick around—maybe you’ll learn a little bit more about the PT profession!
What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
No, physical therapists aren’t glorified personal trainers. They don’t just tell their patients to exercise or give massages all day either *eye roll*. Physical therapy is a very important part of the rehabilitation process (and can help prevent injury + promote health and wellness), and should be respected like every other medical profession—rant over lol.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA):
Physical therapists (PTs) are highly-educated, licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility – in many cases without expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription medications and their side effects.
Physical therapists can teach patients how to prevent or manage their condition so that they will achieve long-term health benefits. PTs examine each individual and develop a plan, using treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. In addition, PTs work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.
Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes.
State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices.
I hope this gave you some insight into what PTs do. To learn more about the PT profession, check out the APTA website!
I have pretty much always known that I wanted to work in the healthcare field. My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is ESFJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judging) aka “The Caregiver”, so this totally makes sense! I had considered becoming a pharmacist, a pediatrician, and an athletic trainer (+ many other careers that I can’t remember) before I finally discovered and chose physical therapy. If you’ve read my PTCAS post about observation hours, then you would know that the first time I shadowed a physical therapist was in high school. It was my senior year, and my health professions class required us to shadow a health-care provider for 10 hours. I had recently taken a sports medicine class earlier in the school year that I thoroughly enjoyed, so at that point I was interested in both athletic training and physical therapy (I realized that I didn’t want to become a pharmacist or a doctor). At the time, my mom worked in an orthopedic physical therapy clinic, so she helped me secure a shadowing experience. After observing just one treatment session, I knew that physical therapy was the career I wanted to pursue. I even ended up having a few treatment sessions at that location myself to help manage my back pain (due to my minor case of scoliosis). As a patient, I really got to reap the benefits of physical therapy, and experience what my future patients will experience.
Fast-forward to college, shadowing PTs for longer periods of time (30+ hours per setting) really solidified my decision to pursue physical therapy. I would always look forward to seeing and talking to the patients, and it was so rewarding to watch them progress.
So, why PT?
The large amount of patient interaction you experience as a PT was probably the number one reason I chose this profession. It is amazing that as a PT you have the opportunity to work with someone for an extended amount of time (weeks, months, even years), and see them reach their goals + do things that they never thought that they could do! You’re with this person almost every day for at least 30 minutes to an hour, so you really get to know them personally. I love talking to + forming relationships with people, so I can’t wait to do this with my patients every day!
As a PT, you’re on your feet for most of the day. I am not the type of person that could sit at a desk 24/7, so I am looking forward to moving around + being active at work.
Breadth of Practice/Flexibility
There are so many settings you could work in as a physical therapist including:
- Outpatient clinics or offices ✓
- Inpatient rehabilitation facilities ✓
- Skilled nursing, extended care, or subacute facilities ✓
- Homes ✓
- Education or research centers
- Industrial, workplace, or other occupational environments
- Fitness centers and sports training facilities
(settings I’ve observed in are marked with a “✓”)
To learn more about these the patient populations of these settings + what the PT’s roles are, once again, check out the APTA website!
- Medical or Health writer
- Marketing/rehab liaison
- Medical device representative/product manager
- Clinical supervisor/manager
According to the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS), there are 8 clinical specialties within the field: Cardiovascular and Pulmonary (CCS), Clinical Electrophysiology (ECS), Geriatrics (GCS), Neurology (NCS), Orthopaedics (OCS), Pediatrics (PCS), Sports (SCS), and Women’s Health (WCS). To learn more about these specialties, check out this page.
If you want to work in a new environment or with a new patient population, you can easily do so! Thankfully, you are not limited in these choices, or stuck with one for your whole career!
The first setting I observed in was an outpatient orthopedic setting (with an emphasis on sports), so I previously thought that I wanted to work with injured athletes. This would definitely be cool, but as of right now, I am very interested in pediatrics. Volunteering as a summer camp counselor for a child with Muscular Dystrophy a few years ago + shadowing at an outpatient pediatric clinic last summer really made me fall in love with this patient population (remember when I said I wanted to become a pediatrician? It’s all coming full circle!).
When considering PT, I really liked the fact that I’d only have to attend school for roughly 3 more years after undergrad to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy (Dr. Dashaé Smallwood, PT, DPT coming at ya in 2021!). In most programs, the first 2 years are didactic, while the last is clinical; a good balance of instruction + hands-on work. After being in school for most of my life (16+ years!), 3 more years is just enough lol. If you’d like, you also have the option of attending a residency (and later a fellowship) in a specific specialty after graduation.
Love for the Body + Lifelong Learning
Ya girl LOVES her some anatomy, so I am super excited that it will be a large component of my job. As you may know I have a B.S. in Kinesiology, so I am really fascinated by + appreciate the body and how it moves.
Like most medical professions, the PT profession requires you to become a lifelong learner. Because every patient is different (and you can’t remember everything all the time), you will always be researching and learning more about certain injuries and conditions as a PT. I love learning, so I am excited to continue learning throughout my career!
As a PT, you have the pleasure of working alongside the patient (of course), other PTs (YES, hello mentorship!), doctors, physician assistants, nurses, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and other healthcare providers. Teamwork makes the dream work, and working with other providers will lead to optimal patient outcomes, and an overall better experience! This teamwork will also allow for each profession to learn from one another (there goes that “lifelong learning” aspect again!), ‘cause let’s face it: we don’t know everything!
According to the APTA: There is a high demand for physical therapists in the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is expected to grow by 36 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. While demand for physical therapists varies by geographical region and area of practice, the unemployment rates are low across the country. The need for physical therapists is expected to remain strong into the foreseeable future as the US population ages and the demand for physical therapy services grows.
I love that this profession is growing, and I should not have any trouble finding a job once I graduate.
And that’s why I chose the awesome (+ dynamic) field of physical therapy! I really enjoy helping people, so I know that this career will be SO rewarding. While this is definitely the right profession for me, it may not be the right profession for you and that’s okay! Every medical provider is important, so continue to research + learn about the other healthcare professions (or other career paths in general) to find the best fit for you. Feel free to leave a comment here or message me on Instagram and let me know why you chose PT, or your profession of choice!
Thanks for reading…until next time guys (: