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Physical Therapists

At a Glance

  • Care for patients with disabilities, injuries, or pain
  • Work with patients, doctors, assistants, and aides
  • Often wear a special uniform
  • May work part time or full time
  • Have a master's degree or higher
  • Have a license

Career summary

Physical therapists (PTs) treat patients to relieve their pain and increase their strength and mobility.

#No alternate titles CJ

Physical therapists care for patients with injuries or illness. Doctors refer patients to physical therapy for conditions such as:

Physical therapists help patients decrease pain and improve strength. They also try to prevent permanent disabilities or stop conditions from worsening.

Physical therapists review the doctor's referral and the patient's medical history. They test the patient's posture, balance, strength, muscle function, and range of motion. When their evaluation is complete, therapists write a treatment plan.

Physical therapists use a wide range of treatments (or modalities), such as:

They make sure patients understand how the treatments work and answer questions. Therapists teach patients how to do exercises at home and use support devices such as crutches and walkers. They also teach families how to help patients with their exercises. They may refer patients for prosthetic devices, which are artificial replacements for legs or arms.

Physical therapists check patients' progress and modify plans when necessary. They consult with other medical staff about patients' responses to treatment. They keep detailed patient records. Physical therapists may supervise physical therapy aides and assistants who help to carry out treatment plans.

Some physical therapists specialize in one type of care such as sports medicine. Others help to develop fitness- and wellness-oriented programs that help to encourage a healthier and more active lifestyle.

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to physical therapists.

Common work activities

Physical therapists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, physical therapists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Physical therapists frequently:

It is important for physical therapists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for physical therapists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Physical therapists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a physical therapist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Two degrees are available in physical therapy -- master's or doctoral (DPT). The field is moving toward phasing out the master's degree and making the doctorate the standard. However, currently either the master's degree or doctorate will prepare you to work as a physical therapist. You do not need to complete a master's degree before enrolling in a doctoral program. While admissions requirements vary, one of the main requirements for either type of program is a bachelor's degree.

Physical therapy programs take about three years to complete. You take basic science courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics. You also take specialized courses in topics such as biomechanics, exam techniques, and therapy procedures. In addition, you receive supervised clinical experience working with patients.

Many undergraduate majors prepare you for graduate study in physical therapy. Regardless of your major, be sure to take courses in anatomy, chemistry, biology, physics, and humanities.

Military training

The military does not provide the initial training for physical therapists. However, it can provide work experience.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements. Physical therapists need a strong background in science and math. If possible, take math through Trigonometry and science through Physics.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers require physical therapists to be licensed. Employers prefer to hire therapists who get along well with people and communicate clearly. A caring, helpful attitude is also an advantage in this occupation.

Some employers prefer to hire graduates who have gained work experience at a physical therapy clinic while in school.

Employers in job settings where there is little supervision prefer to hire experienced therapists. Such settings include schools, rural home care settings, hospitals, home health agencies, rehabilitation centers, specialty clinics, and industrial and sports settings. Workers with clinical experience can also receive clinical specialist certification through the American Physical Therapy Association (external link). Specialty areas include cardiovascular and pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, neurology, oncology, orthopaedics, pediatrics, women's health, and sports physical therapy.

#Verified certification info above 3/20/07, 3/23/09, 3/22/11, 4/16/13, 3/18/15, 1/03/17, 4/5/19 CJ.


Include as many basic science and psychology courses as possible when selecting undergraduate courses. Volunteer work can help when applying for a program and is required in many cases. Observe a physical therapist where he or she works.

Costs to workers

Expenses include additional college classes to keep up with changes in the field and reference books. Many join professional associations, which may have annual dues.


Physical therapists must be licensed by the State of Washington. This is required for employment, except in federal facilities. Licensing requirements include:

Therapists must pay a application fee, national exam and testing fee and an administration fee.

For more information, contact:

Washington State Department of Health
Board of Physical Therapy (external link)

PO Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504


Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Physical therapists working for public schools in the state earn an average base salary of $59,678 per year.

#all updated 2016. OSPI wage updated from 2015-16 personnel summary report 4/3/17 & 2017-18 rpt 4/5/19 cj.

Physical therapists (SOC 29-1123)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $31.65 $35.40 $41.39 $47.40 $53.61
Monthly $5,485 $6,135 $7,173 $8,214 $9,291
Yearly $65,830 $73,630 $86,090 $98,600 $111,510
    Bellingham Hourly $25.71 $32.97 $37.53 $45.31 $51.72
Monthly $4,456 $5,714 $6,504 $7,852 $8,963
Yearly $53,484 $68,583 $78,063 $94,240 $107,571
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $33.59 $37.51 $42.86 $47.80 $51.03
Monthly $5,821 $6,500 $7,428 $8,284 $8,843
Yearly $69,880 $78,034 $89,156 $99,428 $106,141
    Clarkston-Lewiston Hourly $9.89 $30.04 $38.94 $49.87 $58.57
Monthly $1,714 $5,206 $6,748 $8,642 $10,150
Yearly $20,563 $62,493 $80,980 $103,727 $121,833
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $32.44 $35.10 $39.61 $49.88 $58.53
Monthly $5,622 $6,083 $6,864 $8,644 $10,143
Yearly $67,472 $73,012 $82,385 $103,753 $121,746
    Longview Hourly $34.67 $38.87 $44.22 $49.26 $54.01
Monthly $6,008 $6,736 $7,663 $8,537 $9,360
Yearly $72,124 $80,834 $91,969 $102,466 $112,346
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $28.77 $35.63 $43.08 $48.58 $55.28
Monthly $4,986 $6,175 $7,466 $8,419 $9,580
Yearly $59,836 $74,116 $89,599 $101,040 $114,967
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $31.69 $36.02 $42.85 $49.06 $55.97
Monthly $5,492 $6,242 $7,426 $8,502 $9,700
Yearly $65,916 $74,911 $89,142 $102,050 $116,422
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $32.79 $36.74 $42.77 $48.32 $54.32
Monthly $5,683 $6,367 $7,412 $8,374 $9,414
Yearly $68,215 $76,419 $88,975 $100,507 $112,992
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $29.33 $33.40 $37.80 $44.09 $50.21
Monthly $5,083 $5,788 $6,551 $7,641 $8,701
Yearly $61,001 $69,467 $78,617 $91,708 $104,435
    Vancouver Hourly $32.34 $36.26 $42.50 $48.52 $55.15
Monthly $5,605 $6,284 $7,365 $8,409 $9,557
Yearly $67,283 $75,416 $88,393 $100,912 $114,718
    Wenatchee Hourly $33.69 $37.85 $44.01 $50.68 $59.68
Monthly $5,838 $6,559 $7,627 $8,783 $10,343
Yearly $70,075 $78,727 $91,555 $105,415 $124,148
    Yakima Hourly $35.92 $40.65 $45.68 $51.38 $59.01
Monthly $6,225 $7,045 $7,916 $8,904 $10,226
Yearly $74,721 $84,535 $95,023 $106,861 $122,732
United States Hourly $29.03 $34.94 $42.27 $49.29 $59.30
Monthly $5,031 $6,055 $7,325 $8,542 $10,277
Yearly $60,390 $72,680 $87,930 $102,530 $123,350

Wages vary depending on the work setting. For example, physical therapists in home health care tend to earn somewhat higher wages than those in other settings.

Full-time physical therapists often receive benefits. Typical benefits include paid vacation, sick leave, and health insurance.

Employment and outlook

State Outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Physical Therapists (SOC 29-1123)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 5,974 32.1% 16.1% 661
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 202 31.2% 13.4% 22
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 115 16.5% 8.6% 8
    Benton and Franklin Counties 171 32.7% 15.0% 19
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 296 31.8% 11.9% 33
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 531 34.7% 15.2% 61
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 418 34.2% 14.1% 48
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 263 33.5% 14.6% 29
    King County 2,131 32.2% 19.6% 236
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 120 22.5% 13.8% 10
    Pierce County 542 35.2% 15.2% 64
    Snohomish County 647 32.9% 12.4% 72
    Spokane County 661 27.4% 13.9% 66
United States 247,700 21.9% 5.2% 16,900

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is growing significantly. This is mostly due to the large increase in the aging population. New health care laws also mean that more people will be covered by health insurance and will seek health care treatment. New medical developments such as joint replacements also increase the demand for this occupation.

Job opportunities should be good especially in rural areas and underserved parts of the country.

Other resources

American Association of Anatomists (external link)
6120 Executive Boulevard, Suite 725
Rockville, MD 20852
American Kinesiotherapy Association (external link)
American Physical Therapy Association (external link)
1111 North Fairfax Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Explore Health Careers: Physical Therapist (external link)
Health Occupation Students of America (external link)
548 Silicon Drive, Suite 101
Southlake, TX 76092
Interview with a Traveling Physical Therapist (external link)
Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Outlook
Physical Therapy Association of Washington (external link)
208 Rogers Street NW
Olympia, WA 98502


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupation

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster