Getting a Job as a Physical Therapist
How does one go from college graduate to physical therapist?
From the application and the interview to where and how you should be looking in the first place, here is our guide for getting that first post-graduate gig. Along the way, we'll also ask a veteran physical therapist about gaining her first professional experience before starting her own home-health business.
No employer or position is the same, but most in this field will want to see the following materials as part of your portfolio.
Once your portfolio has been pieced together, the next step is preparing for interview questions that you might encounter. We pulled the most salient questions asked of PT applicants, according to glassdoor.com. What would your answers be?
|Are you physically fit?||Who was the most memorable patient you have worked with?|
|Are you willing to expand your skills and do wound care if we train you?||How much do you exercise?|
|Describe the most difficult experience you've encountered in physical therapy.||How would you handle a patient with a diagnosis that you were unfamiliar with?|
|Are you available on weekends?||When did you go above and beyond to meet a patient's or facility's needs?|
|What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses working with the geriatric population?||How would you grow this clinic? Are you interested in clinic ownership?|
Job Boards for PTs
Beyond making your own connections -- and leveraging your graduate program's -- putting in your application online is the most common way to go. The American Physical Therapy Association hosts a virtual career fair, but here are some additional best job boards for physical therapists.
Where to Be a PT
Here at ValuePenguin, we have multiple definitions for the word "place." Where you work can refer to your environment, your city and your state. With that said, here are our best places for PTs to live and work.
Areas of Practice
It's a physical job, and physical therapists spend many of their working hours in action, moving around, even if they are afforded time with each patient. The bulk of PTs work in offices, but these pros earn about $10,000 less, on average, than their peers running or working in the home services sector.
"Find a few different physical therapy practice environments and spend some time there seeing what the PTs do, even if it's just getting observation hours. I've known people who thought they wanted to be a PT but then decided against it. Like any field, it is not for everyone and you should always find out sooner than later. It will also give you a chance to start your network; it is never to soon to develop a network of therapists you can reach out to, whether for a job, volunteer time, letter of recommendation or just advice. I would also urge someone studying PT to actually work in a PT environment, even if doing entry-level work. The comfort and confidence gained in working with patients regularly will make life much easier both as a student and as a professional."
Matt Likins, PT, MPT, OCS
Look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' data for advisement on the state level. For every profession, the BLS breaks down the following.
States with Highest PT Employment
States with Highest per Capita Employment
States with Highest Annual Average Salary
Q&A: Self-employed PT Karen Litzy
There are more than just actors behind the curtain at your favorite Broadway musical. It's also standard practice for these big-time shows to have a physical therapist stage-side. They ensure that the singers and dancers don't actually break a leg. New York's Karen Litzy did just that for The Lion King, where she worked on sudden -- and strange -- injuries. "Not everybody is running across the stage in a hyena suit with hydraulics on their head; not everyone has to walk on hands and feet or on stilts because they’re a playing a giraffe," Litzy, who specializes in chronic pain as well as post rehabilitation strength-training and visits her patients in their New York City homes, told ValuePenguin. "You have to get pretty creative with your treatment techniques and ideas and evaluative procedures, because it’s a completely different population." We asked Litzy, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Physical Therapy Association, about her work with the general public as well as her path into the profession.
- After earning your master’s degree, passing the national board exams and gaining your state license, how was your first professional experience in the field?
My first job was in an acute care hospital in Scranton, Penn. I’m really happy that that was my first job, because it exposed me to a lot of different kinds of patients: very, very sick patients to orthopedic patients and neurological patients. And you’re also working in a really great team environment when you’re in a hospital: You have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of; you have a lot of mentors to help you through. So I quite enjoyed that.
Because literally 100% of the population, at some point in their life, may need physical therapy, finding a physical therapy job is not that difficult. That being said, just like with anything else, finding your dream job might take some time. But that’s with any job.
- Early into your career, did you ever question whether you were in the right spot?
Well, when I was in school, I thought I was definitely going to go into pediatrics and work with children. And then I did a rotation in school. Your rotations are so that you can go out, and you can figure out what you like, and what you don’t like. And maybe what you think you like, you might not like. So I did a clinical in pediatrics, which I enjoyed, but I also did a clinical in an outpatient sports medicine clinic, and I liked that more.
Your tastes change, and even as you age and mature through the profession, I think people’s preferences change. That’s the beauty of physical therapy, because you can go down so many different avenues. You can work with sports medicine, you can work with spinal cord patients, pediatrics, geriatrics; you can be an administrator or researcher. So there’s a wide range of choices, which I think is a good thing, because not a lot of careers can say that.
- Was your second physical therapy-related job in sports medicine?
I actually moved to New York City without a jon lined up and ended up working at a gym, Reebok Sports Club. I knew about this gym before I moved, and it was a really great decision because I was amongst peers who were all like-minded and around the same age, which is great when you move to a big city like New York. Working in that gym is where I got the idea of seeing patients in their homes. Because I saw all of these personal trainers seeing their clients in their homes, as well as seeing them in the gym. And I thought, “If they can do it, I can do it.” And that’s how I started doing the home thing.
After I left the gym, I did work at two outpatient clinics in a full-time capacity, and then once my home business started really picking up steam, I worked part-time for a couple friends who had started a clinic. I went from 20 hours a week, to 16, to 12, to 8 at this clinic, and then finally left the clinic and went out completely on my own.
- What is a day in your work life like now?
I see anywhere from five to eight patients a day. Part of my day is spent on subways and busses and walking to patients’ homes. Usually I will go to see a patient, we will sit and chat for a couple of minutes. We talk about how they’re feeling, where they feel they are with their goals and their values. Then I’ll do a quick re-evaluation based on what I saw last time I saw them.
A treatment might be anything from some hands-on manual work, to patient education, whether it be on neuroscience, or what’s happening as a result of my doing manual therapy from a physiological standpoint. And then I’ll again re-evaluate -- did what I just do with the patient work? And if it didn’t work, then I’ll try something else and then re-evaluate and see if that works.
It's part of a "PDFA" cycle: You plan, you do, you study, and then you act. So I make my plan, I do my plan, I study it, I see how that plan unfolded for the patient, and then I act appropriately. And then I always follow up some manual work with exercise, some sort of movement or exercise. Because you need to bookend that manual work with good solid education and good solid exercise. Research has shown that when all three of those happen at the same time, the patient has pretty good outcomes. That’s probably what I do with every single patient. Granted, each patient is different, each diagnosis is different, but the approach is usually the same.
- Any success stories come to mind?
I had a patient a couple of years ago who fell while skiing at a high velocity, and basically had the same injury as Lindsey Vonn, with her knee. It was a fractured tibia, which is a bone in the lower leg, a torn ACL, which is a ligament in the knee, and a torn meniscus, which is connective tissue, plus other torn ligaments. She had surgery in Utah, came back to New York and was referred to me by a physician who was overseeing her care here. There was a lot of hard work, lots of physical therapy. We had a really great partnership between myself, the physician and the patient. She was motivated and on-board. Long story short, by the next ski season, she sent me a video of her skiing down the mountain in Utah again. Once we got her to the point where I was seeing her once a week, or once every other week, I then hooked her up with a personal trainer that I work with. Now it’s me, the trainer, the doctor, the patient. Having that great teamwork approach, she was a huge success. This could have gone really bad; it could have gone south, given the severity of her injury. And she was able to get back out on the slopes the next season. And she is also a mom, and she was able to lift her kids up out of the crib, which is something she couldn’t do before. She was able to walk down the streets with her kids. So forget about skiing; she was able to get back to really doing the things she liked to do.