By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Most people’s familiarity with physical therapy involves a healthcare professional helping in the recovery after a sports injury or accident after completing to file a claim for a car accident which would be useful for restarting the life. However, physical therapists and Sports Medicine Care specialist work in a large variety of settings and to address numerous health issues.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the physical therapist occupation will grow by 21% between 2020 and 2030, compared with 8% for all occupations. The annual mean wage for Syracuse-area physical therapists is $77,720.
The annual mean wage for Syracuse-area physical therapists is $77,720
Entry to the field must have earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy, pass the National Physical Therapy Licensing exam, administered at the state level, and obtain a license. Therapists who move to another state must go through the credentialing process in that state.
Every three years, a physical therapist must renew the license and take 36 units of continuing education credits.
In addition to the education, astute skills in science and math are important, according to Ted Boyle, physical therapist with Kuss Physical and Aquatic Therapy in Central Square.
“There is a lot of knowledge required in sciences: anatomy, physiology, biology,” Boyle said.
In addition, “definitely, they have to be a caring individual and someone willing to put the needs of others above themselves,” he added. “You encounter a lot of people in pain or who are in a rough spot because of the symptoms they’re experiencing. Being able to empathize with that; you have to be a people-person. That’s a big part of being successful. You need good interpersonal skills.”
He also thinks that physical therapists should want to remain curious to keep up to date with current treatment methods.
Boyle likes the amount of time he can spend with patients and that he can help them get back to their routine.
In addition to out-patient clinics like Kuss Physical and Aquatic Therapy, physical therapists can also work at hospitals, sports rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, schools, early intervention centers, burn units, home care, cardiovascular patients, pediatric patients and those with neurological issues.
Taking additional continuing education units relating to a specialty can help physical therapists segue among different types of physical therapy.
Jamie McKinstry, doctor of physical therapy and clinical director at Warner Physical Therapy in Oswego, said that physical therapists have many options for career development, including leading as a senior physical therapist with more administrative responsibilities, director of a physical therapy clinic, hospital physical therapy department or college department.
“There’s a lot to enjoy,” McKinstry said. “You get to meet people. I chose this over a becoming a physician assistant or a medical doctor when I was in undergrad in that you get to spend a lot more time and get to know them on a deeper level as a physical therapist.
“It is a setting where you can personalize things towards your patients. It’s very rewarding. Helping people feel better and live better is rewarding.”
The outlook for the profession is good.
“We have an upward trajectory all of our numbers every year,” said Jason Pratt, director of therapy services for Oswego Health.
He believes this is driven by the aging population, as well as shifts in the healthcare industry.
Since the healthcare industry is moving towards a more wellness and prevention-oriented model, the role of physical therapists may expand in the future to include more injury prevention and exercise guidance. Insurance coverage will likely influence how quickly this will happen.
By their definition, physical therapists are movement and exercise specialists, treating the body holistically to keep the body’s systems functional to improve quality of life across the lifespan. They can help people suffering from back, shoulder, knee and elbow pain.
“Everyone knows someone close to them who’s had physical therapy,” Pratt said. “It’s more widely accepted option to avoid surgery. Sports injuries are increasing with specialization and over-use.”
He encourages anyone interested in physical therapy to consider job shadowing. Oswego Health has offered opportunities to local high schools to allow students to observe physical therapists at work.