Choosing to become a physical therapist (PT) is a calling, no less than becoming a writer, artist, or attorney. You need to plan your academic path correctly in order to be happy as a PT and make a decent living.
At the core of this calling is great empathy, compassion, and a desire to help people. While some patients will require PT for life in order to achieve the best results, others experience great improvement in just a few sessions. Instant gratification is certainly on the table for a PT professional.
Depending on where you practice (or plan to practice), you may be required to obtain different levels of education, certification, and licensing. Similar to being a physician, you have option of starting your own practice, joining an existing one (and thus working under a “boss”), or even being hired by hospitals to provide services to inpatients on a freelance basis.
These options are something you can explore later in your career path, but they’re important to keep in mind.
What makes a great PT?
In some instances, it may be possible to get the education you need without an advanced college degree … or even a degree at all. Instead, your training might be more vocational.
This will enable you to focus solely on the skill sets and knowledge you need to do the best job, but without the burden of massive student loan debt. For many PT professionals, this combination is exactly what they’re looking for.
At the heart of it, the virtues of a great PT are not something that can be received through training and schooling alone. A genuine desire to help people, as well as plenty of intuition, are among the more intangible skills of a good physical therapist.
You probably have had a knack for math and science, because anatomy is central to PT training. You might also have been told you’d make a great coach or trainer, because tough love is sometimes necessary to keep push a patient with a challenging condition (or difficult attitude) forward.
PT isn’t easy; unlike massage, for many patients it’s not an activity they enjoy.
Making a living
For a lot of PT professionals, one of the most satisfying perks is getting to be an entrepreneur and working for yourself. This means you’ll need to create your own team of SEO professionals, web designers, marketers, and PR folks.
Contracting out these services is a great option that lets you maintain independence without taking on too many roles alone. Like any other entrepreneur, you’ll have some control over how much (or how little) you make, though stability can be an issue.
In any case, going into a profession that gives you that control as well as the possibility of a more traditional approach to work allows for choices and alternatives throughout your career.