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Overview of How to Become a Physical Therapist

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Elias Miller in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info. 


What’s Covered:



In this article, we discuss general background information about what it takes to become a good physical therapist (PT), from the soft skills needed and the tasks you’ll need to perform to the education and licensing requirements. 


Soft Skills of Successful Physical Therapists


For PTs and aspiring PTs, several soft skills are necessary for success in the field. 




The first important soft skill is patience. Ideally, if you are interested in becoming a PT, you’re already a patient person or can at least learn to be patient. Physical therapy courses of treatment can be lengthy and are not always linear. Some patients have chronic issues that last for years, and many patients themselves aren’t always the most composed. For example, Elias shared a time when they developed a shoulder injury and a torn ACL and remarked that it can be frustrating when things don’t get better right away.


As a PT, you need to avoid getting frustrated with your own plan of treatment or with your patients and instead, help them through this difficult time of their life as they deal with an injury or underlying condition.


Time-Management Skills


In physical therapy, like many professions, time management is essential. As a PT, you will need to exercise these skills to ensure that each patient has a fulfilling session while staying on schedule. You only have so much time with each patient, and you may have to coordinate with other patients in the practice using the same equipment. Ultimately, skills in collaboration and coordination are crucial for PTs. 




Flexibility is vital, particularly mental and emotional flexibility. A good PT needs to be able to change and customize plans of action based on a specific patient’s needs. 


Suppose that you have an 80-year-old patient who broke their wrist. Their course of treatment through physical therapy may not be similar to that of a 12-year-old who broke their wrist. The courses of treatment may be different lengths, and there may be certain exercises that the 12-year-old can do that the 80-year-old shouldn’t. As a PT, you need skills in flexibility to customize and evaluate the treatment plans of your individual patients. 


Tasks of Physical Therapists


While many tasks are involved in this occupation, the key ones are interacting with patients directly and creating treatment plans for those patients. 


Some interactions may be consulting based, such as meeting with someone after they have been injured to assess their injury or reviewing the results of scans like MRIs or X-rays. In a standard consultation, a PT typically asks their patient about the pain that they are experiencing, where it is located, when it flares up, what aggravates it, and its level of severity. Then, based on that consulting, the PT has to try to create a treatment plan that will help the patient recover as efficiently as possible.


Beyond consulting and treatment-plan creation, PTs will work with patients directly, depending on the needs of their treatment plan. This can entail helping patients with balance, flexibility, or strength training or helping them regain mobility or normal function of whatever is not working.


Qualifications Needed to Become a Physical Therapist


Several qualifications are involved in order to become a PT, as it is essential to have someone qualified to create a physical therapy plan for patients. In most cases, PTs need to achieve a doctoral degree, which typically takes about three years to complete in addition to an undergraduate bachelor’s degree. While PTs do not have to get a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy, it can be helpful to at least study a related discipline.


After achieving a doctorate degree, PTs must pass a state licensure exam in order to obtain a license to legally practice. There are also residency requirements.


Job Outlook for Physical Therapists


PTs can work in various places, from hospitals to clinics and even schools. While there is a range to the average annual salary of PTs, according to Payscale, it is between $60,000 and $91,000. 


Ultimately, compensation will depend on how long you’ve practiced and where you work as a PT, including the kind of practice that you work for and your geographic location. For example, if you’re located in Boston or New York, you may get paid more than if you’re in a more rural area.