Train for a New Career
Train for a New Career: Physical Therapist
Ranked among the top five professions for demand in the marketplace and job satisfaction
Physical therapists rank in the top five professions nationwide according to job availability in the marketplace, salary rates and job satisfaction.
Dr. Larry Chinnock, PT, Ed.D., MBA, and associate chair of the physical therapy department at Loma Linda University’s School of Allied Health Professions, said, “You almost never talk to a PT who doesn’t love their job.”
There are three career paths you can take: physical therapist, physical therapy assistant and physical therapy aide. Many PT aides and assistants go on to become fully trained PTs after finding they love the work. Median starting salaries in Southern California for PT aides are $22-35K; $46-63K for PT assistants; and $65-70K for PTs, many with their own private practice clinics.
The Path of the PT
Becoming a physical therapist requires a three-year continuing college course commitment, and for most programs you must already have a bachelor’s degree in science. Loma Linda University is unique in that it will accept students into the PT program without a bachelor’s degree as long as you have 138 quarter units or 92 semester credits with specific prerequisites. Then you’ll be on track to move from a BS to a doctorate in physical therapy, which is the degree most PT programs offer (some still offer a master’s degree). But in the end, everyone has to pass the national exam to receive licensure in the state of your choice.
The first seven weeks of PT training at Loma Linda includes gross anatomy, four hours of lecture, and four hours of lab working with human cadavers. Other courses include general biology, anatomy & physiology, chemistry, physics, statistics, kinesiology, body mechanics, and speech & communication skills.
Chinnock defined the mindset of the typical PT as someone who, “thinks about not only what’s caused the problem and how can I fix it, but also let’s change the patient’s lifestyle so that the problem doesn’t come back.”
Physical therapy assistants are also required to take degree program courses, and at Loma Linda University they graduate with an associate degree after two years with the designation of physical therapy assistant.
Revekka Geykher, executive director of ICDC College, says that the physical therapy aide program is, “for someone who wants to be in this exciting field and get short-term training to get a foot in the door.”
Course training at ICDC takes nine months to complete, with four-hour day and evening classes for 36 weeks. Course topics include therapeutic rehabilitation, physical therapy/clinical procedures, patient care, therapeutic exercises, massage therapy, medical insurance forms, medical billing procedures, computerized billing, patient communications, computer applications and MS Office.
“Our school offers a unique program, Geykher said. “Besides the back office the students are also learning to work the front office, too. We beef up their computer and communications skills. They need to be able to work well with others, have great communications skills, passion for their field, patience and be compassionate toward others.”
A day in the life of a PT aide includes preparing the patients and treatment areas, and assisting the physical therapist with treatments such as gait training, hydrotherapy and exercise programs. There are also routine clerical and related office tasks to be done. In everything, though, the aides are working under the supervision of a licensed PT, which is why they don’t require certification.
A typical day in the life of a licensed PT means coming up with treatment programs for clients who may have injured their spines in auto accidents, suffered a stroke, or had hip or knee replacements. They evaluate and treat those clients, and create individual home programs. PTs work on mobility activities, strengthening activities and ambulation activities with the goal of helping the client recover to their prior level of function so they can go back into the community and live productive lives. And PT assistants are the ones who help carry out those treatments and follow up with clients during their homecare programs.
“PTs need to be creative, enjoy studying the body, and like working with people,” Chinnock said. “There is a vast array of clients, and each individual will require specialized treatment.”
Let’s Get Physical
Job settings for PTs include working at private outpatient clinics, in acute care in hospitals — this includes pediatrics, geriatrics, orthopedics, sports, home care and neurological rehabilitation — and also consulting with corporations. Of course, where there is a PT, there is usually an assistant and an aide working alongside to provide professional support.
Many people are attracted to this profession, thinking they will work with sports celebrities, but we’re told that pro sports is a very small field and the majority of sports PT gigs are with high school football teams.
“I think [the demand for physical therapists] will remain strong as the ever-aging population continues to have aches and pains,” Chinnock said. “Schools are not increasing the amount of graduates, but demand is going up.”
Geykher agreed, adding, “Our mantra is we change lives, and our students want to make a difference in someone’s life. In California the unemployment rate is extremely high. We’re successful with the amount of programs we offer to students that don’t require a high school diploma.”
Whether you decide to test the waters as a PT aide or go back to college to become a licensed PT or PT assistant, the community is in need of these services and the future looks bright. ww