A physical therapist (PT) is a health care professional concerned with restoration and maintenance of function resulting from disease or injury. Their patients include accident and stroke victims, injured athletes, amputees, handicapped individuals, and people with minor joint or muscle aches. PT's examine each client and develop a plan using treatment techniques with the goal being to improve circulation, strengthen muscles, restore motor skills, relieve pain, and expedite recovery. PT's are employed in hospitals, private offices, industrial health centers, sports facilities, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, home health agencies, schools, or teach in colleges and universities.
Personal qualifications important to a physical therapist include patience, empathy, compassion, strong interpersonal skills, and the ability to instruct and motivate. Patients are often suffering emotional as well as physical stress, and treatment requires sensitivity in addition to technical proficiency on the part of the therapist. A PT should have strong interpersonal and communication skills, and be comfortable touching and treating the human body. For PT career information, read the US Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook's website.
Pre-physical therapy is not a major, but a set of courses required by physical therapy programs for admission. You can major in any undergraduate degree program provided that you include the required pre-physical therapy prerequisite courses. Students must prepare themselves with a basic background in chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology, as well as the social and behavioral sciences and the humanities. Beyond this basic preparation, you should choose a major in what interests you. The Advising Center offers assistance with program selection, academic guidance, workshops, writing the personal statement, mock interviews, getting letters of recommendation, admissions testing, and application guidelines.
Specific course requirements may vary for each physical therapy program, but the following courses are generally required. It is the applicant's responsibility to determine the requirements of each program to which they are applying. All required courses must be taken for a letter grade. In general, required courses include:
Additional courses that may be required or recommended include: calculus, statistics, computer science, microbiology, exercise physiology, kinesiology, public speaking, and medical terminology. Check the requirements of each school to which you are going to apply.
Admission to physical therapy programs is highly competitive. The best-prepared applicant is one who has taken the prerequisite courses, has seriously investigated the field, and has given much thought to the reasons for selecting physical therapy as a career. Most schools require experience in at least two different PT settings, with one often being in an inpatient setting. The amount of required hours of experience varies by school. To find a list of all accredited programs, visit the APTA Prospective Students website.
Criteria often used in the selection of applicants include GPA, work experience or exposure to the field, letters of recommendation, personal statement, test scores (e.g. Graduate Record Examination, "GRE"), extracurricular activities, and interview scores. To learn more about the GRE, go to gre.org
There are two routes to becoming a PT:
Applications should be submitted 12-15 months before expected enrollment. Most physical therapy schools belong to the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (PTCAS) that allows students to apply through one initial application.
Most physical therapy programs require that the applicant send two or three letters of recommendation. It is advisable that one letter be from a physical therapist, preferably one with whom you have worked who can evaluate your ability and the kind of asset you will be to the profession. Letters from science instructors and/or former employers may also be required. PTCAS provides a Letters of Reference Service.
You may also consider storing your letters with a document collection and delivery service such as Interfolio. With Interfolio your letters can be kept on file for up to five years and delivered to the program you are applying to at your convenience. More information about the service can be found at Interfolio.
There are a wide variety of experiences possible for applicants and it is important for a competitive applicant to have participated in extracurricular activities. Often students must support themselves financially and work becomes their primary extracurricular activity. Many students also have research or clinical experiences which are viewed very positively by PT school admissions committees. Community and campus service, organized sports, personal interests - all can be important in the admission process. It is very important that you have some type of PT experience whether it is just observational or actual work for a physical therapist. PT schools want to be certain that you have knowledge of the field.