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Professionalism in the Physical Therapy

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Over the past couple of years of high school, I have been debating between two career choices. Those two careers include engineering and physical therapy. I figured that engineering would be more prestigious than physical therapy and most likely higher pay, however, after I tore my anterior cruciate ligament my decision was made up. I chose to pursue physical therapy rather than engineering because I would rather do something I will feel fulfilled in for the rest of my life. My dad is a medical doctor and ironically has always encouraged me to pursue a job that I would find rather than being motivated by salary. His job pays well but he dislikes the stress and wishes he chose a more authentic career path. I’ve gone to rehab for my knee for the past seven months and the people that work there are some of the nicest most positive people and seem to savor what they do. Due to my inclination to aid others, interest in the movement of the body, and passion for sports, I feel that physical therapy would be best suited for me.

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So what exactly is a physical therapist? “A physical therapist health care professionals that diagnose and treat injuries of all ages” (Gardner ‘Who Are Physical Therapists?’).

Physical therapists tend to fall under five main categories, orthopedic, geriatric, neurological, cardiopulmonary, and pediatrics. Orthopedic is the one that I want to go into and focuses on restoring function to the musculoskeletal system, including joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Many sports injuries have to do with this category. Geriatric physical therapy focuses on older people’s conditions. These conditions mainly include arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, joint replacement, and balance disorders. Neurological physical therapy focuses on neurological conditions and impairments, such as Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, and stroke. Cardiopulmonary physical therapists focus on helping people who struggle with cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions, such as heart attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and pulmonary fibrosis. And lastly, pediatric physical therapists deal with the unique needs of infants. These needs include problems like acute injury, birth defects, developmental delays, genetic disorders, and muscle diseases.

My original plan was to pursue soccer and hopefully commit to UCSB, however, after my injury I had to face the harsh reality that soccer was no longer a path that I could follow. This only encouraged me to pursue physical therapy more and more so I can help people like myself. My new plan is to attend the University of Michigan and earn my bachelor’s degree there. Here I will major in kinesiology. This will be challenging considering that this college has an admission rate of 22.8% and an average unweighted GPA of 3.85. Not to mention the SAT scores 75th percentile is 1510 and 25 percentiles are 1330. (CollegeSimply ‘University of Michigan – Admission Requirements, SAT, ACT, GPA, and chance of acceptance’) This college is very challenging to be accepted but is overall ranked fourth in colleges to major in kinesiology. Tuition for this college is about $15,000 with housing and meals averaging out to about $12,000 and books and supplies $1,000. At the University of Michigan, I do not plan to participate in any sports. Nearing graduation I plan to take the GRE. The GRE is a standardized test that is an admission required for many graduate schools in the United States and Canada. It is also a requirement to obtain a DPT. “Other requirements for the DPT include relevant work experience, prerequisite coursework in the core sciences, anatomy, physiology, statistics, and geometry, bachelor’s degree that includes pre-med experience and a strong GPA (particularly in the sciences), and strong written supporting materials, including recommendation letters and/or required application essays.”

The schooling process will be very long and arduous, however, it will be worth it in the long run. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I will spend an extra 2-3 years of schooling earning my DPT. I will most likely take this course through the University of Southern California. This course requires a strong understanding of anatomy, behavioral sciences, biology, and many more subjects. It also requires at least a 3.0 GPA and 150 hours of credits. After completing this program I will earn my DPT and then my PT license. After you have received your PT license, you need 30 contact hours or 3.0 CEU. To apply to become a Physical Therapist I will need to complete the following steps: finish a BS degree in Kinesiology/ then apply and complete a DPT program, apply for a PT license and acquire at least 30 hours of contact with patients. I hope to become an intern at a facility named Results Physical Therapy in Sacramento. There I will gain experience and work my way up from an intern.

The annual salary for a physical therapist widely ranges from state to state. The overall average is $87,000 with New York being the highest-paid ($97,000 annual average) and North Carolina being the lowest paid ($70,000 annual average). Typically, physical therapists earn $35-$50 hourly. To be a respected and well-paid therapist, you must have patience, education, social skills, and experience. I can hope to get financial aid and merit scholarships but assuming I do not, I will likely incur some debt. The average cost for PT school tends to fall between $75,000 to $100,000. Within the first few years of working and earning upwards of up to 70k-80k I can hope to pay off a loan quickly.

The employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 22 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for physical therapy will increase from the aging baby boomers, who are not only staying active later in life but are more susceptible to health conditions, such as strokes, that may require physical therapy. In addition, physical therapists will be needed to treat people with mobility issues stemming from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or obesity. All of these factors will contribute to an increased demand for Physical Therapists in the future.

“Some of the employment benefits include medical, prescription and vision insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, short-term and long-term disability, flexible spending accounts, paid time off and extended illness days, and tuition reimbursement.” (Huynh ‘Benefits of a Physical Therapist Career’). Because therapists are working all day helping others, this contributes to an overall increase in their quality of life. This furthered my interest in becoming a PT because it showed that I didn’t have to stay in a cubicle and rather be able to work in a physical and positive work environment. Another huge benefit of physical therapists is that they are always active. Therefore, it is likely that I would stay in good shape.

The physical therapist can work in a variety of settings including hospitals, outpatient offices, private practices, nursing homes, home health agencies, and schools. Physical therapy is generally a day shift job with PTs usually working 8 am-5 pm but this can vary widely depending on where you work and what schedule you get. Some physical therapy providers offer services to patients/clients during the early morning or early evening hours. On a typical day, a PT spends a great deal of time standing, walking, and occasionally may be required to assist in tasks that involve heavy lifting. As a patient at Results, I get to experience firsthand what a typical day is like for them. Usually, their day includes rehabbing others from injury as well as logging process on a computer program. As for how many clients they have a day, it depended on one the size of the facility and also how long your therapy session would last. Typically sessions last around an hour or two depending on what needs to be worked on. Typically therapists tend to see around six to eight patients a day. PTs could also run a group conditioning/strength training course. I am currently enrolled in a “return to sport program” that is uniquely designed for people who tore their ACL. The group setting is positive as well as motivating. I feel inspired that I could one day create a similar program for athletes to prevent sports-related injuries.

Overall, the research I have conducted has furthered my interest in the physical therapy field. I am attracted to the work/life balance that this career path would provide. Not only would this career path be fulfilling but the salary is a sustainable one for my future. Though achieving this requires tenacity and hard work, the rewards that I will reap will be worth it. Achieving my goal is difficult and requires mental fortitude but once I’m there I believe the job won’t feel like work due to it feeling so rewarding. 

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