Becoming a physical therapist is demanding, but the career can be very rewarding once you start working with patients in a clinical environment. In this job, you will help patients improve mobility after accidents, strokes, and other trauma, as well as reducing pain and teaching patients how to prevent future injury. At a minimum, expect to attend a Bachelor's program in physical therapy and take an examination to be licensed, although be aware that a Master's program will enhance your abilities as a physical therapist and increase your employability.
Some physical therapists also work as personal trainers or massage therapists. A personal trainer/physical therapist can help patients get back in shape after an injury with their extensive knowledge of human anatomy, and can also take on new, healthy clients and keep them that way with carefully monitored exercise. Offering massage therapy in tandem with physical therapy will help your patients relax, improve their flexibility, and feel better as a whole.
If you are a high school student interested in working in physical therapy, start by taking lots of science and psychology courses, along with volunteering or working in a clinical environment. Interacting with patients in a hospital or physical therapy office will help you to decide if this career is right for you, while science classes will prepare you for college. In addition, get physically active: you need to be in good shape to work in this job, and it will also give you a deeper understanding of body mechanics and sports injuries.
In college, aim for a Bachelor of Science degree with a focus on anatomy, physiology, and biology. In addition, be prepared to take advanced math courses, and take psychology and social science courses as well. As a physical therapist, you will deal with patients in a wide range of psychological states, and you will be better able to help your patients if you understand human psychology and use it to develop strong interpersonal skills. If you pursue a Bachelor's in Physical Therapy, be prepared to take continuing education courses to hone your skills.
Most people interested in a career as a physical therapist attend a Master's program, where they learn more about biomechanics, anatomy, techniques used to help bodies recover from trauma, pathology, and ethics. A Master's program also gives you an opportunity to specialize in physical therapy in fields like sports medicine or stroke recovery. You can also learn how to work with medical professionals from a variety of fields, as a physical therapist is often part of a cooperative medical team working together to make a patient feel better.
After you have graduated, you will need to take a national licensing exam in order to qualify as a physical therapist. Once you have passed this exam, you are eligible to join an existing practice or start your own: many therapists prefer to start out in an established practice to take advantage of existing facilities and a strong patient base. While practicing, plan on staying in excellent shape, as you will use your muscles on a daily basis. In addition, keep up with advances in physical therapy through trade journals and conferences, so that you can provide high quality patient care.