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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I become a Physical Therapist?

A physical therapist (PT) works with patients who have suffered physical disabilities as the result of an accident or a disease. In consultation with doctors and other medical professionals, the PT designs a patient's rehabilitation therapy and works with the patient over a course of weeks, months or even years. Therapy can include exercise, deep-tissue massage and ultrasound treatments.

1. Understand that you will need a bachelor's or master's degree in physical therapy, and that it will include numerous science courses, including chemistry, biology and physics. You should begin taking these science courses in high school.

2. Work on polishing your interpersonal skills. You will often have to advise frustrated patients and family members about long-term physical therapy.

3. Go to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Web site ( for up-to-date information about this field. Also look for the APTA list of accredited schools and contact your top choices for their admissions information.

4. Maintain an excellent grade point average. The physical therapy field is highly competitive.

5. Consult local hospitals, rehabilitation centers and private therapy practices about their hiring forecasts. Try to get your internship where jobs might be available after you graduate.

6. Pass the mandatory licensure exam after you have received your degree. Check your state's exact licensing requirements long before graduation.

7. Decide if you want to specialize in an area such as neurology, pediatrics or sports medicine. Ask your counselor about the additional training or degrees required for certification in a specialty. Remember that you can work toward a specialty after you graduate from college.

How do I Become a Physical Therapist Aide?

Growth in employment of physical therapy aides is expected to grow 29 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of 2009, approximately 46,000 physical therapy aides are currently employed--71 percent in physical therapy offices and hospitals and the rest in nursing facilities, offices of physicians, home health centers and outpatient care centers.

1. Get a high school diploma, a moderate degree of strength and the ability to kneel, stoop and stand for long periods of time. You will also need to be well organized and detail oriented, have strong interpersonal skills, and be a caring person who likes to help others.

2. Understand that physical therapy aides are often responsible for gathering and preparing therapy equipment. They prepare the treatment rooms with the required equipment for each individual patient's needs. They are there to assist the physical therapist or physical therapist assistant. They are given the task to keep the area clean, organized and prepared for the next session. Physical therapy aides will assist the patients to and from the treatment area pushing the patient’s wheelchair or having the patient lean on their shoulder as they walk. Physical therapy aides are also responsible for clerical tasks, such as ordering supplies, answering phones and filling out insurance forms.

3. Be prepared to work full-time or part-time; a large number of positions are part-time. They receive on the job training and with direct supervision from physical therapist or physical therapy assistants can learn advance techniques often performed by physical therapy assistants. In a number of states, physical therapy aides can become physical therapy assistants with experience and if necessary further education. Physical therapy aides can expect a median income of $22,060 a year, as of 2009. The range is $15,850 to 32,600 for physical therapy aides. The factors included in that range involve the geographical location as well as where you are employed. Nursing care facilities average $24,170 per year, physician offices $22,680 per year, hospitals $22,680 per year and physical therapy offices $21,230 year. Assisting patients regain skills and abilities they have lost due to accident, illness or age is a rewarding career. If you have a true desire to help those in need and a strong back, this may be the path you were meant to take.

How do I Become an Animal Physical Therapist?

An animal physical therapist helps a variety of species including horses, dogs and exotic zoo animals. These animals need assistance because they have experienced a trauma or sickness that is affecting their ability to move, and causing pain. These professionals work in a variety of settings including private practices and city zoos. But to become an animal physical therapist, you must gain the required education and pass a state exam. Here's a guide to becoming an animal physical therapist.

1. Earn a Master's Degree in Physical Therapy with a specialty in animals. These programs typically take three years to complete. Western University of Health Sciences (see Resources) offers a Master's Program in Animal Rehabilitation. You can also find programs in your area by checking out, a directory that includes programs across the nation.

2. Pass a state licensing exam. After completing your program, you must pass a state exam to practice physical therapy. Since every state's requirements for animal physical therapists are different, check with your state's licensing, permits and registration department.

3. Get internship experience. While attending college, seek animal physical therapist internships with local zoos and veterinarian physical therapy practices to get hands on experience. This will also provide networking opportunities that may land you a job after graduation.

4. Update your resume. Once you graduate with your Master's Degree in Physical Therapy, update your resume to include important qualifications such as internship experience, volunteer work with animals and education. For sample resumes, check out Best Sample Resume (see Resources).

5. Apply to animal physical therapist jobs. Because animal physical therapy is a unique niche, you won't find many of these positions on large job boards.

How do I become a Physical Therapist Assistant?

1. Decide that you want to do it. It is as simple as that. I agonized over whether or not to change my direction. Even though the one I was on wasn't working, I was comfortably uncomfortable. If you know this is what you want to do, DO IT!

2. Research the profession. The American Physical Therapy Association website,, is your first source for all things physical therapy. Use it to choose a school, read about what physical therapy is, and the different career options.

3. Know the differences between the physical therapist, physical therapist assistant, and physical therapist aid.

The physical therapist evaluates the patient and devises a treatment plan. More complex therapies are done by the physical therapist. A masters or doctorate of physical therapy is required.

The physical therapist assistant carries out the treatment plan. A large majority of the therapy is carried out by the assistant, especially routine therapies. The assistant is a patient's cheerleader and reports on patient progress. An associates degree in an accredited program is required.

The physical therapist aid does not participate in most of the therapy. The aid is responsible for the appearance and organization of the clinic and may handle insurance and clerical responsibilities. The aid may assist patients by following unsteady individuals with a wheelchair while they walk. A high school diploma or GED is required. Training is done on the job. Most jobs are volunteer.

4. Choose a school. The APTA website lists schools by state for both PTs and PTAs.

5. Find out what the requirements for the program are. Apply to the program. Most PTA programs require a student to visit 1-2 physical therapy sites, usually one inpatient and one outpatient. The visitations are discussed during the admissions interview with the school's PTA program director.

6. Start taking science classes and other general education credits as soon as possible. Most PTA programs require 1 or 2 English classes, math, 1 or 2 psychology classes, and several science classes. The better you do in science classes, the more likely you will be selected to begin the program.

7. Competition for entrance into PTA programs is generally not fierce, but good grades and an aptitude for science or willingness to learn science are essential. As the profession grows in popularity, competition might grow. Generally, students who do will in science and other general education subjects won't have a hard time getting admitted. If you don't have strong high school grades, consider doing your first year by taking the necessary science and GE classes if you aren't ready for acceptance. Most PTA program directors will accept you if you prove you have the drive and ability to do well in school.

8. If you can, do more than just 2 visitations to PT clinics. Volunteer as a physical therapist aid. Most hospitals have aids assisting in both inpatient and outpatient clinics. It's great experience, gives you a better understanding of what you are going into, and you make contacts with potential employers. Your supervisor can provide you with a glowing recommendation in your future search for employment after school if you show you are dedicated and have a talent for working with people and listening to directions.

9. Commit to finish the degree. You will have days where you will want to give up. Physical therapy school is vigorous and requires a large commitment of time and energy. Remember why you are doing it. To help others. To start a great career with stability and great pay. To recession proof your job (most health care jobs fare well in economic downturns)

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