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Careers in Physical Therapy

Options for Those Who Want Careers in Physical Therapy


Physical therapisit working with patient at clinic.
Vicky Kasala / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Those who want careers in physical therapy have three options from which to choose. You can be a physical therapist, a physical therapist assistant or a physical therapist aide. Educational and licensing requirements differ for each of these careers in physical therapy, as do duties and salaries. See the chart below for a quick look at the differences between each of these career choices.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists deliver direct patient care, providing services that restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities. They develop treatment plans for their patients and oversee these plans until desired outcomes are achieved. To become a physical therapist one must first earn a master's degree or a doctorate degree from a physical therapist educational program and then pass a licensing exam. Median earnings for physical therapists were $74,480 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Physical Therapist

Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical therapist assistants work under the direction of physical therapists, delivering treatment to patients. To become a physical therapist assistant one must earn an associate degree from an accredited physical therapist assistant program. In addition to coursework that includes algebra, anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, and psychology, physical therapist assistant students must do clinical field work. To work as a physical therapist assistant in some states, one must be licensed, which usually requires passing an exam. Physical therapist assistants earned a median salary of $48,290 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Physical Therapist Assistant

Physical Therapist Aide

Physical therapist aides work under the direction of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. They help make physical therapy sessions productive by keeping the treatment areas clean and organized and preparing them for patients' sessions, and getting patients to and from these treatment areas. A physical therapist aide receives on-the-job training after earning a high school diploma or GED. Physical therapist aides earned a median salary of $23,890 in 2009.
Learn More About Becoming a Physical Therapist Aide

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ and
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/ (visited March 11, 2011).

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Comparing Careers in Physical Therapy
  Education License Median Salary
Physical Therapist Master's or Doctorate Degree Required in all states $74,480
Physical Therapist Assistant Associate Degree Required in some states $48,290
Physical Therapist Aide HS Diploma and On-the-Job Training None $23,890

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