A physical therapist must learn how to properly evaluate, diagnose, and treat an individual whose disorder or condition limits his or her ability to move and function normally in daily life. To do so, the individual must have a robust educational background and study topics ranging from anatomy to biomechanics, the musculoskeletal system, pathology, and management of neurological dysfunctions.
Educational requirements for a physical therapist are rigorous, and students must earn a bachelor’s degree to gain admission into a graduate school for physical therapy. Typically, graduate schools only consider accepting individuals with practical volunteer experience, or continual observation of physical therapy. They must also have strong grades in prerequisite courses, as well as good scores in the Graduate Record Examination (GRE test). Upon acceptance, students will take additional courses and participate in clinical internships to get hands-on experience in patient care, assessment, and treatment.
After earning a graduate degree, another step needs must be taken before someone can be licensed as a physical therapist. Every U.S. state has its own requirements, but most require candidates to have a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapy academic program and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. In New Jersey, physical therapists must take and pass the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) “Jurisprudence Assessment Module” prior to licensure, which tests the applicant’s familiarity with their respective state’s laws and rules.
Although not required, physical therapists are encouraged to seek board certification. This is only offered once a candidate has been licensed and has completed at least 2,000 clinical practice hours in their specialty area. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) offers 9 specialty certifications, including cardiovascular and pulmonary, geriatrics, and clinical electrophysiology. Board-certified physical therapists must be recertified after 10 years.
The best physical therapists take their ongoing education seriously, both to advance their careers and to keep current on the latest advancements in the field. Professional organizations, including the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), offer courses, national conferences, and more, for practicing physical therapists.
Overall, a physical therapist must have extensive knowledge of human anatomy in order to treat patients. They must also possess excellent interpersonal skills and have a desire to help others.
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