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Becoming a physical therapist

The physical therapy profession is a rewarding career field with a lot of growth opportunity. The increasing demand for physical therapy professionals is at least in part due to our aging American population. The "baby boomer" generation is approaching ages more prone to chronic and debilitating conditions that benefit from the services of a physical therapist. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated the outlook for physical therapy jobs to grow by 34% from 2014 to 2024. This rate is much quicker than normal for jobs. One of the more common questions I get from people is how to become a physical therapist.

Physical therapists tend to love their jobs! Great satisfaction can be derived from helping people reach their goals, whether it's walking again, or having less dizziness when looking around. This career consistently ranks as one of the top jobs available in a multitude of surveys and studies. Even better is the fact that recently the American Physical Therapy Association has ranked Nebraska as the 3rd best state to practice within. For those of you looking to explore different environments, physical therapists can easily find work all over the United States. Physical therapists work with patients of all ages in a wide range of locations such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, nursing homes, and sport or fitness facilities. Even the NFL recently has required each team to have a physical therapist on staff. Physical therapists in the military are very well respected and even have the ability to order certain pain medications and diagnostic imaging such as x-rays.

The first step to a physical therapy degree is an undergraduate degree. Interestingly enough, the specific major or focus of your degree isn't that important. Most physical therapy schools have individual requirements for admission, and those interested, should certainly review each school's requirements. As an example, the University of Nebraska Medical Center's (UNMC) Physical Therapy Department, my alma mater, requires a combination of biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, and social science courses. As long as you satisfy these requirements, your declared major can be in any area you'd like. While most individuals select some sort of science background, there have been some who come from diverse backgrounds such as music or even dance.

Physical therapy schools will also require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), as well as provide letters of reference supporting them as worthy candidates. Finally, most physical therapy schools will extend interview invitations to a group of applicants. These interviews will provide an opportunity for both sides to gain useful last minute information about each other. These requirements can be challenging, and the competition for spots is continuing to grow as more people learn about the physical therapy profession. For the 2014-15 school year, UNMC accepted slightly less than 16% of applicants to their class of 53 members.

After acceptance, physical therapy students will spend the next three years earning a clinical Doctorate in Physical Therapy degree. The curriculum consists of classroom, laboratory, and clinical settings, focusing on preparing students for the wide array of tasks a physical therapist has to be able to perform.
If you have a specific interest in physical therapy, I encourage you to reach out to me or a peer. Many physical therapy schools don't require observation, but do prefer applicants shadow in a facility. This allows for individuals to ensure that they are interested in the profession and helps the school be certain of their selections finishing school. I'm more than willing to answer any specific questions prospective students may have. Have a great week.

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