A career in physical therapy offers the opportunity to make a tangible difference in people's lives through rehabilitation and care. As the demand for physical therapy services grows, driven by an aging population and increased recognition of the importance of rehabilitation, understanding how to become a physical therapist, the expected physical therapist salary, and common career paths in the field becomes essential for aspiring professionals.  

How to Become a Physical Therapist

Becoming a physical therapist requires a combination of academic training and clinical experience:

  1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree: While a specific major isn't required, courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry are essential to prepare for graduate study.  If you didn’t take these courses, you can do so prior to starting your PT degree program.
  2. Complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program: Accredited DPT programs typically take three years to complete and include both classroom instruction and clinical rotations. Coursework covers subjects like anatomy, biomechanics, neuroscience, pathophysiology, clinical management of various conditions, among others.
  3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE): Graduates must pass this exam to become licensed physical therapists.
  4. Obtain State Licensure: Requirements vary by state but generally include passing the NPTE and completing any additional state-specific requirements.

Physical Therapist Salary Expectations

The salary of a physical therapist can vary based on factors such as geographic location, workplace setting, years of experience, and specialization. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual wage for physical therapists was approximately $100,440 in May 2023. Physical therapists working in home healthcare services and nursing care facilities tend to earn higher salaries. Additionally, those with advanced certifications or specializations, as well as those in management roles may see increased earning potential.

Common Career Paths in Physical Therapy

A career in physical therapy offers opportunities across various settings, including:

  • Hospitals: Working in acute care and intensive care units.
  • Rehabilitation Hospitals: Focusing on intensive short-term rehabilitation for complex medical, traumatic, and surgical conditions that require focused interdisciplinary care.
  • Private Practices: Providing care in outpatient orthopedic clinics, sports medicine facilities, or specialized practices.
  • Home Health: Offering in-home care for patients who are unable to travel.
  • Schools and Pediatric Centers: Specializing in developmental, neuromuscular, and orthopedic conditions affecting children.
  • Long-term Care Facilities: Focusing on patients needing long-term care and those with chronic conditions or disabilities requiring comprehensive rehabilitation support.
  • Research and Education: Contributing to the advancement of physical therapy knowledge and training future PTs.

Advancing Your Physical Therapy Career

Continuing education and professional development are crucial for career advancement in physical therapy. Physical therapists can pursue:

  • Advanced Certifications: Certificate courses to further advance training  in areas like  manual therapy, vestibular rehabilitation, lymphedema management etc..
  • Clinical Residency and Fellowship Programs: Gaining specialized clinical experience in a focus area such as geriatrics, neurology, acute care, cardiovascular & pulmonary, sports.
  • Doctor of Science (ScD) or PhD in Physical Therapy: Engaging in research or academic roles.
  • Leadership Positions: Moving into administrative or managerial roles within healthcare institutions.


A career in physical therapy offers the  chance to improve the quality of life for patients of all ages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15.1% employment growth for physical therapists between 2022 and 2032, with an estimated 37,300 jobs. There has never been a better time to consider a career in this growing field.