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What does a typical day look like for a physical therapist?

I am potentially interested in becoming a physical therapist after college, and I was wondering what the average workday looks like.

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Beth’s Answer

Hi Kalyssa,
Donna’s answer is excellent. I’ll just expand on it a little. Different settings will have different hours and expectations. If you work for a school system, you get school hours - 8-3 ish with summer off, spring break, Christmas, etc. The therapists can work longer for parent meetings and report writing. It is a great job if you have school age kids. You will make an equal hourly wage to your clinic based colleagues but you are working fewer hours.
Most outpatient clinics are open 7 am - 6 pm. You might work 4, 10 hour days, or work 7-4, or 9-6. Like Donna said, your day will be mostly patient care, documentation, maybe a meeting here and there.
If you like sports, lots of PT’s also have their athletic training certification and work evenings and weekends to cover games for high school or semi pro teams. Yes, there are PT’s on staff with all pro sports, Olympic level teams, dance companies, pro rodeo, etc.
Hospitals and nursing homes tend to work Monday- Friday, 8-5. They also have a partial staff on weekends for new admissions. There are facilities in the Dallas area that have a Friday, Saturday, Sunday shift- and you get pay and benefits like you are full time.
Home health is another option. Full time is considered 20-30 visits per week, 60 minutes per visit. Before you get excited- you also have to drive between clients and do documentation, so you are busy!
Therapy is an intense 6 or more years of college. It is difficult to hold a job because classes are full time. Many new graduates have large amounts of student loans. To pay this off, many physical therapists have a side gig, too. School therapists work at the hospital on weekends and holidays. Work at the outpatient clinic 7-4, the see 1-2 home health patients afterwards, etc.
This is not a job where you are bored. You never get to check your phone or have a long lunch. But helping someone get their life back is all worth it!

Beth recommends the following next steps:

APTA. Org for universities, careers
Shadow a therapist to see if you like it
Keep your grades up, very competitive to get into program.
Volunteer at Special Olympics, nursing home, hospital.
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much, Beth! Skylar
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Bhavna’s Answer

A typical day for a physical therapist can vary depending on their work setting, patient load, and schedule. However, here is an overview of what a day in the life of a physical therapist might look like:

1. Patient assessments and treatment plans: The day usually starts with patient assessments and creating individualized treatment plans based on the patient's condition, goals, and any medical history.

2. Patient treatment sessions: Physical therapists usually attend to multiple patients in a day and conduct one-on-one treatment sessions that can last for 30 minutes to an hour. These sessions could include exercises, stretches, manual therapy, and education on self-care and pain management.

3. Documentation: Physical therapists need to maintain comprehensive and accurate documentation of their patient's medical history and progress towards recovery. This includes recording their assessments, treatment plans, and progress notes.

4. Consulting with other healthcare professionals: Physical therapists often collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists, to develop comprehensive patient care plans.

5. Continuing education: Physical therapists are required to stay up-to-date with the latest research and treatment techniques. They participate in continuing education courses and attend seminars and workshops to enhance their skills and knowledge.

6. Administrative tasks: Physical therapists may have administrative tasks that include scheduling appointments, billing, and ordering supplies.

Throughout the day, physical therapists prioritize patient safety, quality care, and communication with their team and patients.
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Cheri’s Answer

Kalyssa,

The voices of experience prior should be carefully read. In addition to their counsel, have you heard of shadowing? Beth mentions it in her "Next Steps" section. These are sometimes also called Observerships due to the eyes-on, hands-off policy. Shadowing programs allow you to observe first-hand what a real day & work environment is like as a Physical Therapist. Your advisor or counselor may be able to help you coordinate shadowing with a local facility. The more facilities you shadow, the more information you will have because each will likely be a little bit different depeding on their typical patients, patient loads, etc.

For a much less thorough assessment, type in "a day in the life of a physical therapist" in the search bar in YouTube. Several videos will appear that you can watch. While watching, keep Beth's, Donna's, & Bhavna's answers in mind. This will help keep your eye critical for each video's accuracy (versus being infotainment). Watching videos is only meant to introduce the idea. Be certain to shadow, intern, or volunteer to have real experiences. Only then will you know if your expectations of being a Physical Therapist closely match the reality of such a career.

Shadowing, interning, volunteering, what's the difference. Shadowing is observation-only. Interns get hands-on, real world experience to build their resumes & their confidence in necessary skills. Some paid internships may exist at facilities near you but often these positions. Like volunteering & shadowing, are unpaid. Volunteering often means you're assigned jobs that are meaningful but that the Physical Therapists & staff may not have time to do. This doesn't necessarily show you skills needed but if you are very observant in this environment, it could. Regular shadowing, volunteerism, and interning could potentially provide networking opportunities, familiarize you with that career environment, & introduce you to necessary skills-all of which could eventually translate into securing the job you'd like to have at the facility you liked the best.

To find suitable volunteer opportunities, you could simply type "Volunteer+Grafton, OH" in your browser's search bar. LinkedIn, AmericanTowns, Indeed, & VolunteerMatch (see below) all list plenty of options. Simply use the app or go to their site, then filter or search those opportunities for physical therapy/physical therapist. (Hint: if using a laptop, try pressing the control button & the "f" key at the same time to find these key words.)

I hope some of this helps! Best of luck!

Cheri recommends the following next steps:

https://www.volunteermatch.org/search/index.jsp?l=Grafton%2C+OH+44044%2C+USA&v=true&cats=17%2C11
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Donna’s Answer

As a physical therapist for 35+ years in several different settings, I found each setting had its own rewards and challenges. PT's can work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities,home health, school systems, etc. In each setting, it was extremely rewarding to work with patients to achieve their highest level of independence, improve their function or decrease their pain. A typical day had regularly scheduled patients for the PT to see, either for an initial evaluation or ongoing treatment. Some settings have PT Assistants or aids to help with aspects of treatments; others the PT does the entire treatment themselves. As patients improve, you change their treatment goals and set up a new program for them to work on, so the work is ever-changing and can be very challenging when a patient isn't improving or cooperating. Most patient interactions are very enjoyable.
There is always the paperwork/computer charting aspect of the job and that can be exasperating some days, but it is necessary to do that well so someone else can step in to work with your patient if you can't. Also, there are opportunities to work both full and part time in PT, as your own life events change.
PT is an excellent field and the demand will continue into the future as higher numbers of the population age.
Thank you comment icon Thank you so much for the advice. Skylar
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Nathalya’s Answer

Hey Kalyssa! 😊 Donna's answer is spot on! Let me share with you what a typical day looks like for me as a PT working in ICUs, ERs, and Inpatient units.
When I'm on a morning shift, I start by getting into my scrubs, checking exams and going over medical charts. Then, I visit my patients, asking about their night and if they're experiencing any discomfort.

After that, I join a super cool multi-professional team that includes doctors, nurses, psychologists, nutritionists, and speech therapists. We have our morning meeting to set goals for each patient for the day.

Once that's done, I really get down to business! I help patients out of bed and guide them through breathing and body exercises. After a fulfilling day, I wrap things up by jotting down notes on each patient's chart, signing them off, and handing over the shift to my coworker.

And that's my day! Hope that gives you a glimpse into my life as a PT!
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Case’s Answer

I echo other responders: shadow shadow shadow! Shadow as many PTs in as many different settings as you are able. I have been fortunate to work in a wide variety of settings and, while the basics of individual assessments, plan of care development, treatments, documentation, and interprofessional collaboration are fairly consistent, different settings provide vastly different challenges and opportunities.

I recieved my DPT through the army's graduate program (they paid ME to go to grad school. Graduating without debt put me well ahead of the game). In a government setting, PTs have more autonomy. I had my own desk, was able to order imaging and lab work and specialty referrals, had easy access to a centralized medical record system and was able to develop strong relationships with primary care and specialty providers which I believe greatly benefited the patients. My schedule was 1:1, with 5-6 evaluations and 5-6 progress notes per day. All but the skilled treatments (dry needling, spinal manipulation, etc) were conducted by our support staff whom we spent lots of time training every week. As active duty officers, PTs in the military are expected to conduct large scale injury surveillance and health promotion projects. There is great opportunity for education, research, and advancement.

Other interesting settings I've worked in include onsite industrial and corporate clinics. In my case, GE Appliance Park and Humana Corporate. Like the military setting, these usually only have one insurance type to master and are more concerned with getting the patient well enough to return to full unrestricted work as quickly as possible than maximizing insurance reimbursement (although revenue generation is always important). These settings are great after you've gained a few years experience because you are often the sole PT within an onsite medical team. It's a lot of responsibility to work independently and advise the medical team as the musculoskeletal expert. You often have to perform logistic and administrative tasks yourself such as scheduling patients and ordering supplies.

I have found outpatient clinics and hospital based clinics to be increasingly profit- driven rather than outcome driven, which means higher patient volume (often staking as many as 4 patients at once), hours of documentation outside of work hours, some sticky ethical issues, and high burn out. They are great places to start while you are young and full of energy. As a new PT, volume is a great teacher. It's also important to be surrounded by other PTs to collaborate with and learn from.
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Aisha’s Answer

Hi Kalyssa,

For the most part, you'll be consulting with patients to learn about their physical condition and symptoms. Diagnosing movement dysfunction and developing a treatment plan. Teaching patients how to properly use therapeutic exercise techniques. Providing stimulation or massage to promote healing.

Good Luck on your journey.
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