Answers from the Experts

A Career in Physical Therapy

By Johnette Meadows
Director, Department of Minority/International Affairs
American Physical Therapy Association

Physical therapists have the rewarding opportunity to make a positive difference in the quality of people's lives. Their work involves extensive contact with people-with both patients and other health care professionals.

Physical therapy takes a personal and direct approach to meeting an individual's health needs and wants, whether a patient's goal is walking independently or breaking a high-jump record. Along with the patient and other health care practitioners, the physical therapist shares the hard work and commitment needed to accomplish each individual patient's goals.

For people with health problems resulting from injury or disease, the physical therapist assists in the recovery process to make them stronger, relieve their pain, and help them to regain use of an affected limb or to relearn such activities of daily living as walking, dressing, or bathing. Because recovery does not end for patients as soon as they are out of the physical therapist's direct care, physical therapists must teach patients and their families what to do so that healing continues through self-care at home.

Physical therapists also seek to keep people well and safe from injury. They do this by teaching the importance of fitness and showing people how to avoid hurting their bodies at work or play. By designing and supervising individualized conditioning programs, physical therapists promote optimal physical performance and help health-conscious people to increase their overall fitness level and muscular strength and endurance.

Physical therapists are respected members of the health care team. They work with other healthcare providers, such as physicians, occupational therapists, rehabilitation nurses, dentists, psychologists, social workers, podiatrists, and speech pathologists and audiologists.

Although a large number of physical therapists work in hospitals, now more than 70 percent can be found in private physical therapy offices, rehabilitation centers, community health centers, nursing homes, home health agencies, corporate or industrial health centers, sports facilities, research institutions, schools, pediatric centers, and colleges and universities. Some physical therapists work as employees in these settings, while others are self-employed as owners or partners in private practices. Indeed, settings, employment arrangements, career responsibilities, and career opportunities depend on the interests and skills of each practitioner.

For more information on physical therapy as a profession, please access the American Physical Therapy Association Web page at or by e-mail at


courtesy of Saint Michael's College
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