Physical Therapy is a Tree With Many Branches
Starting a career in physical therapy is like climbing a tree. Everyone starts with the same trunk,
but pretty quickly, you have to make some decisions about which way you’re going to go. What
kind of people do you want to work with? Where do you want to practice? And how far up the
tree do you want to climb? You’ll get to grow professionally – learning more, getting better
clinically, and maybe even improving your sales and business skills, but that’s not all. Physical
therapy gives you a chance to grow personally too.

Pick your people

You can pick the type of people you want to work with – sports physical therapists work with
athletes, helping them recover from injuries and improve performance through exercise and
hands-on techniques. Geriatric physical therapists work with elderly patients on mobility
problems, pain or managing chronic conditions. Pediatric physical therapists work with infants
and children providing developmental assessments and helping them improve their gross
motor skills.

Pick your place

You can also pick where you work – there are physical therapy jobs in nursing homes, hospitals,
outpatient clinics and schools. Physical therapists provide care wherever people need it. So far,
we’ve only mentioned the more common places you’ll find PTs – if you want to specialize
further, you may find yourself working only in the ICU with critical care patients, in a factory
doing industrial rehabilitation and ergonomics, in a women’s health clinic, or even working in a
preventative, public health role.

Grow professionally

Most physical therapy careers start in a general role, working with all types of different
patients. If you work in a large health system, you may even rotate between settings. But as
you find the type of people you like to work with and the setting you prefer, you have the
option to improve your skills and focus on a specialty area of practice. Again, you have lots of
options on how to do this. You could:

● Take an internship position or join a fellowship program
● Attend workshops or conferences
● Read journals and textbooks
● Collaborate with your colleagues and mentors
● Take courses in other areas of medicine
● Study abroad or take courses online

Grow personally

Your clinical skills aren’t the only thing a career in physical therapy can grow though – you’ll
grow personally as well. You have to learn to have compassion and empathy when you work
with ill or injured people. You have to work as a part of a team. You need sales skills – most
people aren’t going to want to make changes in their routines, or do the exercises you prescribe
at home. You’ll learn to work with people who have different opinions and different viewpoints
from all kinds of cultures and backgrounds.

You may also have a chance to improve your business skills. You could advance out of the
clinical setting and into a management role. Some PTs start their own practices, or a company
in a field related to physical therapy like wellness, performance, injury prevention or population
health for large corporations.

Wherever you start in physical therapy, you’ll have a lot of options on where you end up.
Chances are you’ll explore more than one branch of the physical therapy tree. That’s OK,
having the chance to grow and change is part of what makes PT so exciting!”