By Brian Allred PT, DPT, CMTPT, TPS
A little while ago, the high school had their scholarship night where Juniors and Seniors could get some information about applying to college, getting scholarships, and generally planning out their adult life. My daughter doesn’t quite know what she wants to do, but she has some ideas. I encouraged her to ask some local business in those fields if she could come in and observe for a while. That way she could get a feel for whether or not it might be something she could enjoy. She was incredulous and she said that she didn’t think anyone would want to let her do a job shadow with them. “You guys don’t do that, do you?”
As it turns out, we’ve hosted quite a few students over the years who thought that they might be interested in a career in physical therapy. They have come from the high school, from Sheridan College, and other schools. Some observe for a few hours and others stay for several months. It’s a great way to learn what it’s like in an outpatient PT clinic and to see some of the pros and cons of a career in physical therapy. If you think you (or a questioning high school student that you know) are interested in becoming a physical therapist, here is a little information about being a PT that might help point you make an educated decision.
Getting a physical therapy degree generally takes about 7 years: 4 years of undergraduate work and 3 years of graduate school. There is a little variability between schools, but that’s pretty standard. There is not a PT school in Wyoming, so that means at least a little traveling.
It’s pretty competitive and getting more competitive. For example, when I was interviewing at the school I ended up attending I was shocked to see that I was one of about 250 students interviewing for one of less than 40 spots. A couple years later I helped with the interview process with the new class of students and by then the number had grown to almost 500 students interviewing. The other big part of education is the cost. It is honestly getting out of hand. I left school with over $100,000 in student loans and I’ve talked to new grads with up to $150,000. The cost of school should definitely be a factor in your decision.
One of the nice things about being a physical therapist is that you can pretty much go to any town or city and have a job. There are a lot of different settings, so if you are looking for a change, it is easy. Physical therapists are needed in outpatient settings, hospitals, home health, schools, nursing homes, and even with professional sports teams. There has been a trend lately According to the American Physical Therapy Association, the median salary for a PT is $85,000, but there is a pretty wide range. It can change quite a bit based on location and setting as well as experience.
What are you waiting for?
The best first step in my opinion is just what I told my daughter. Spend some time shadowing PTs to see if you think you would like it. And try a couple of different settings. I probably wouldn’t have been interested if I had only seen a hospital setting. That’s because I love being able to spend a lot of time with my patients and get to know them. It’s one of my favorite things about my job. But you don’t get that in a hospital setting. On the other hand, some people don’t want to get attached to their patients and a hospital setting is perfect for them.
The best way to find out what you like is to try it out. It isn’t too hard to get set up with a PT clinic to start job shadowing. You will need to call and ask if they are willing to host you and probably sign some forms, but that’s it! You can spend all day (or more if you want) following PTs around and getting a “day in the life” experience. And who knows. A few years from now, you might be the one with a high school student following YOU around to see what physical therapy is like.
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