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What is a day in the life of a physical therapist?

What do you spend most of your day doing? How many therapists do you typically get in a day?

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Kennedy’s Answer

I work as a physical therapist in an outpatient setting. I spend my day doing 60 minute long sessions with both new patients and with patients that I see regularly several times per week. I typically average between 12-16 patients per day. I focus on functional activities in my sessions to get them back to doing activities that have been causing them pain with less pain over time. I focus on educating patients on their injuries along with biomechanics like proper form for lifting mechanics and things like that so that they understand what is going on and to lower their risk of re-injury.
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Lauren E.’s Answer

I have experience in the outpatient orthopedic setting (where the patients are well enough to come to you in a clinical setting to receive their physical therapy services and that can generally revolve around things like musculoskeletal injuries/surgeries (think sprained ankles, knee surgery, back pain, Tennis elbow), sports injuries, and some higher functioning neurological patients like ones that have had strokes or Parkinson's or people with general balance deficits).
I have had a similar experience in my outpatient orthopedic clinic to the other commenters. We double book on the hour, on average. So I will perform manual therapy on one patient while the other is performing their exercises in the gym in an area where I can still monitor them, and then I have my patients switch. In a 10-hour day, I could see 12 (on a slow day) to 18 patients.
Each one requires a typed-out daily note that includes their Subjective complaints (are they Better/Same/Worse from last time, or did they notice they were more swollen since last visit, or had an easier time doing the stairs), Objective measurements (range of motion of how much they can bend their knee, different types of manual tests you can do to test their muscle strength, or even how they're walking that day which is called their gait), Assessment of how they responded to the session (did the therapist add something that day to work on a specific goal of the patient's, did the patient have difficulty with a task or exercise that day and why, the overall summary of that patient's treatment session), and a Plan for the next session or upcoming sessions (it's called a SOAP note). These notes are used by the therapist treating that patient on the next visit and can be sent to insurance.

Lauren E. recommends the following next steps:

Contact a local PT provider to ask about observing there to see it all happen in front of you.
Working as a rehab tech or similar is great experience. Even though you won't be providing the care, you will have a front row seat watching it all happen while being a part of the PT team.
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Lauren’s Answer

This all depends on the setting. In a hospital inpatient setting I get to work, pick up a schedule of patients i will be seeing. Each patient may be 30-90min sessions. While I am with my patient I will be treating them with exercises, stretching, teaching them to walk again and documenting each session via EMR (electronic medical record). On that note, you will probably see 4-8 different patients in a day. Working in the outpatient is different depending on the type.

At the Ortho clinic, I walk into work find my schedule (normally online) and have patients scheduled every half hour from start to finish. There are techs that help with exercise, if I find I need to correct form I will jump in and help out. I follow the exercises with hands on manual (massage, mobilization,distraction,range of motion) and educate the patient on what exercises they should be doing at home, if they should be using hot/cold pack. After that I document or go on to the next patient. 8 hour day brings in about 12-15 patients.

At a pain clinic I have a suggested schedule, of patients I will be seeing who come in whenever they want or when transportations brings them in. I will assist through exercises and stretching with education on body mechanics and pain management techniques. Often times they all show up between 11-2 with the rest of the day being lighter. I see about 12 patients a day.

At the Neuro outpatient I see 4-8 patients in a day, all are seen for 60-120 mins, one on one. We work on transfers from chair to bed, bed mobility including rolling and sitting up, standing balance, walking, balance with movement, stair training, strengthening. Documentation is while you are with the patient or at an hour which you have no patients.

Lauren recommends the following next steps:

Tech at a facility
Shadow multiple facilities
Thank you comment icon I really appreciate you answering my question. I learned a lot just from your response and I am very happy to do more research about being a possibly physical therapist kylie
Thank you comment icon What a great response. It's interesting to get perspectives from different settings including hospital/inpatient, orthopedic/outpatient, a pain clinic, and a neurological outpatient setting. Lauren E. Triemstra
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Brittany’s Answer

I work in an acute care hospital setting. About 2/3 of my day I see patients for initial assessments and/ or follow up treatments. The other 1/3 is spent on documentation. In a hospital setting, one of our main roles is discharge planning and making recommendations for the patients next phase of recovery. I see a wide variety of patient diagnoses including chronic illness, strokes, post surgical orthopedics or cardiac and critically ill patients in intensive care. Since hospital stays tend to be short, we only get a few days to get patients as mobile as possible to prepare for discharge.

Brittany recommends the following next steps:

Set up shadowing experience in a variety of PT settings
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Sarah’s Answer

I work in an outpatient neuro setting. I am a vestibular specialist meaning I treat dizziness and imbalance. I see 12 patients a day for 40 minutes each.
Each PT setting is different and each company sets their own a schedule based on goals.

Sarah recommends the following next steps:

Shadow PTs in various clinics. Just call a clinic in your area and ask to spend the day with them. Most don’t care at all! We always have at least one student in the clinic.
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Margie’s Answer

Hi Kylie,
I am a home health physical therapist assistant so I get to make my own schedule. I work Tues-Fri. I start seeing patients around 9/10am and I am home around 3/4pm. I drive to patient's homes to provide physical therapy. I work by myself, I have colleagues to contact via phone/text/email.
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