13 Pros and Cons of Being a Physical Therapist
Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
The world of physical therapy is extremely fast paced and exciting, yet it is not for the faint of heart. That being said, I bet you've never thought about what it would be like to become a physical therapist. What do you think? Would this career path interest you? Do you know what are the pros and cons of being a physical therapist? Do the pros and cons of being a physical therapist seem worth exploring in detail? If so, then continue reading the top 13 pros and cons of being a physical therapist!
What is a Physical Therapist?
As a Physical Therapist, you will help patients recover and regain their independence. A physical therapist helps people with injuries and other medical conditions to regain mobility. They use an array of exercises and devices to help their patients recover from injury or illness. Physical therapists work in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, and private practices.
TOP CONS OF BEING A PHYSICAL THERAPIST
(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being a Physical Therapist.)
1. You will need to earn a bachelor's degree.
In order to pursue a career a career as a physical therapist, you must first earn a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree in the health sciences is preferred. A bachelor's degree will take you around four years to complete. During your undergraduate coursework, you'll learn a lot about various topics such as physics, kinesiology, biology, chemistry, physiology, and anatomy. These foundational science courses are essential to ensure that you have successfully completed them. They will provide a further foundation for your Doctorate. So, if science is not your forte, I would reconsider a career as a physical therapist.
2. You will need to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree.
In addition to earning a bachelor's degree, you're going to need to earn a doctorate degree. A doctorate is the highest degree that can be achieved in most fields of study, but to be a physical therapist a doctorate is a must, making it one of the disadvantages of being a physical therapist. Doctorates usually take around four years to complete as well. The Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT
) is a 3-4 year program where graduates are prepared to become practitioners in physical therapy. Before you apply for DPT school, make sure that the program you are applying to is accredited by the Commission of Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE
). CAPTE ensures that the DPT programs meet current standards for curricula, clinical education, faculty qualifications, and facilities. So, if you have more time and more money to burn, this is one way of doing it.
3. Do you have any idea how much this is going to cost?
The education needed to become a physical therapist takes many years, as one must first obtain a bachelor's degree to apply for DPT school. One of the biggest disadvantages of being a physical therapist is the cost of tuition alone which usually exceeds $120,000. It does not include expenses such as books and fees, which could be added on top of the already hefty price tag. The required Doctorate degree that you will have to obtain to practice will cost you around $80,000 more. Now, that's a pretty penny! So before making the decision to become a physical therapist, it would be best to do some research and homework on what you're signing yourself up for.
4. How do you plan on paying for your schooling?
Taking out loans for your physical therapy education may seem like a good idea at first, but are they really? If you are coming from money or have money saved up for your education, then yes. However, if you are one of those students who may have to take out student loans to pay for your physical therapy education, it can be better not to! Here's why: You will spend time paying off student debt after earning your degree and starting your career, but there is no guarantee that you will get a job right out of college. Many student loans offer low-interest rates, which can be lowered even more if you make payments on time. But what happens when you do not have the money to pay for your student loan? What can happen is your interest rate can skyrocket, and you will be even further in debt. You may think it is easy to get a student loan, but you can also go deep into debt while attending college. This will cause your student loan repayments to be high.
5. You must become licensed.
You will need to successfully pass an exam to obtain your license. The exam you must take is called the National Physical Therapy Examination, or NPTE
for short. The NPTE is set up by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). If you pass this exam, you will be allowed to practice in your state as a physical therapist. So, basically, your entire career depends on passing this exam. Wow, good luck!
6. You will have to renew your license.
So, it is not good enough to successfully pass your state boards; one of the biggest disadvantages of being a physical therapist is that you now must renew and maintain your license. To renew your license, you must have a certain amount of continuing education credits/contact hours. Continuing education courses will focus on areas that your state's certifying board deems essential, such as laws and ethics.
7. You should complete a residency.
While evaluating the pros and cons of being a physical therapist, one of the main things that you will have to decide is if you should pursue a residency in this field. A residency is a postgraduate period of supervised practice in a particular field. If you are considering completing a physical therapy residency, below are some things to keep in mind. Although a residency is a great way to learn more about the field, the experience may not be as peachy as it seems. In fact, there are several issues to consider before completing a physical therapy residency. Although a residency will make you more marketable, it will also add additional time to not getting out there in the workforce earning money. In some cases, a residency is as long as three years. Also, you will have to give up the time that could be spent earning money for payments on student loans. In addition to this, a residency does not guarantee a higher salary.
8. You should earn certification.
Although it is not required by law, most employers prefer that their therapists are certified. Physical therapy certification can be obtained through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS
), which certifies rehabilitation specialists in four different areas: orthopedic physical therapy, acute care physical therapy, pediatric physical therapy, and geriatric physical therapy. Earning your physical therapy certification will require passing a certification exam and maintaining your credentials with continued education. It will cost you lots of study time and sitting for this exam is not free. In fact, the cost of the certification exam is not cheap. Certification will cost you about $700, and that's just the sitting fee.
9. Your career will be physically demanding.
A career as a physical therapist will be physically demanding. One of the top disadvantages of being a physical therapist is that you will be on your feet all day long, lifting heavy patients and using a variety of muscles you didn't even know you had. Since this job requires lifting people who are often larger than yourself, you can risk being injured easily. In fact, according to a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery
, physical therapists have a 36% higher risk of developing an overuse injury than other healthcare workers. These injuries generally affect the shoulder and lower back. While weighing the pros and cons of being a physical therapist you will have to consider that although you probably will get some great exercise in this career, you will also probably end up with some aching legs and feet.
10. You may have to work with challenging patients.
As a physical therapist, you are there to help people get better after injuries or surgeries. Your job isn't always easy, and that's when complex patients come into play. On more than one occasion, you will have to work with difficult patients. Your job may become very uncomfortable and even miserable at times because of them. Working with difficult patients day in and day out may make you not want to continue working in this field. Now you are faced with a pretty big dilemma, should you continue to work with difficult patients or quit your career as a physical therapist.
11. You run the risk of becoming burned out.
As a physical therapist, you can become burned out. The job can be taxing emotionally. You spent all this time and money to be left with nothing if you become so burned out you leave the field. If you do leave the field, you could be stuck in a low-paying job or, worse, unemployed with no job prospects in sight. Don't let this happen to you!
12. You may be exposed to pathogens.
When working with patients as a physical therapist, you could find yourself working with people who may have a contagious disease. You might not know that the patient you are treating has an infectious disease. You may forget to use infection control while treating your patients without even realizing it. These mistakes could lead to you contracting a contagious disease and bringing it back home to your family.
13. You will have to complete a large amount of documentation.
Every time you work with a patient, you will be responsible for completing a ton of documentation. This added workload can be very stressful, time-consuming and is one of the cons of being a physical therapist. All of this documentation is legally binding. This added load can cause some therapists to use shortcuts or even skip some procedures that they feel are unnecessary. By doing this, you run the risk of making a mistake and not treating your patient correctly, which can result in severe consequences for you and the patient.
TOP PROS OF BEING A PHYSICAL THERAPIST
(The following are the top 13 advantages of being a Physical Therapist.)
1. You have a great earning potential
As a physical therapist, you will have great earning potential. The average physical therapist salary
is around $91,010 per year. Some of the top earners in this field have even made six figures! Having such a high earning potential will enable you many luxuries in life. For example, you can own a luxury car, buy a stunning home in the suburbs, and even take exotic vacations to destinations all over the world! While analyzing the pros and cons of being a physical therapist you will have to consider if the cost of your education in the beginning is worth the paycheck you will be making in the end.
2. You will be in demand.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for physical therapists are expected to grow 21 percent
from 2020 to 2030. This growth is much faster than the average for all occupations. The faster than average job growth is one of the top advantages of being a physical therapist and means that you will always have a job. The physical therapy job growth is projected to be much faster than the average occupation employment due to increased life expectancy and retirement age.
3. You can get paid to travel.
You can travel
to different places, getting paid for it. Many people dream of living in a different place, but this often seems impractical because most jobs require you to stay in one area. However, being a physical therapist allows you the chance to live in a new place just about anywhere. If you enjoy traveling, one of the benefits of being a physical therapist is working as a traveling physical therapist. Being a traveling physical therapist means traveling to different places, working in different clinics and hospitals. You will have the best of both worlds. You will be able to earn money and travel the country.
4. You can work in many different settings.
Physical therapists work in many different settings, such as schools, hospitals, clinics, private practices, home health agencies, and nursing homes. The pros of being a physical therapist is having many different settings that you can choose to work in, so much so that you can likely find somewhere else that you will enjoy if you do not like working in one setting. If you would like to work more with children, there are settings where all of your patients are children. If you want to spend almost all your time working in a clinic or private practice, then those are options as well. Essentially you can have the setting that you want.
5. You can specialize
As a physical therapist, you will be able to specialize
. The different specialties that are available allow you to work with patients on specific problems. The various specialties available as a physical therapist are neurology, pediatrics, orthopedics, and sports medicine. Specialization as a physical therapist can be financially beneficial as well as challenging. Having a specialization also means that you get better at what you do. It boosts your confidence and gives you extra tools to offer better therapy to your patients.
6. You will be able to have a pretty lovely work-life balance
As a physical therapist, you will be able to have an outstanding work-life balance. You will also never miss out on your social life because you will get to attend weddings, baby showers, and many other important events. You will be able to spend time with your children and family because your schedule will accommodate all your life events. Being able to balance all aspects of your life is definitely one of the top pros of being a physical therapist.
7. You will be helping others.
One of the biggest advantages of being a physical therapist is that you get to help people regain their lives. Physical therapists work with their patients on helping them improve their range of motion, balance, and coordination, as well as the movement skills they need for day-to-day life such as walking or getting up from a chair, but what's even better is that you get to see your patients excel. You make their lives easier, improve their independence, and help them overcome challenges they thought impossible. Not many people can say that. That has got to feel great.
8. You are part of a team.
As a physical therapist, you are part of the healthcare team. As a valued member of this team, you help patients heal so they can get back up on their feet. You work together to ensure patient well-being and quality care for everyone in need. Your contributions to this team are valuable in ensuring that the patient is receiving the best care possible.
9. You will not be bored
Boredom is something you will not feel in your career as a physical therapist. Your day-to-day will consist of working with people who have various issues, ailments, and injuries. You will not find yourself in the same situation every day because each patient will have unique needs. This is great if you are somebody who bores easily. Routine is something you will not find much of as a physical therapist. Each and every day, you will face different challenges and different successes. For example, some days may go by where you have nothing but success with your patients getting their lives back on track. Other days are bound to be filled with more struggles than victories. Never being bored in your career is definitely one of the advantages of being a physical therapist.
10. Your job can help you stay physically fit
One of the perks of being a physical therapist is that your job will keep you physically fit. You will be lifting, stretching, and bending all day long. You will always be moving. I mean, I guess you can consider it like you are being paid to work out. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
11. You could open your own practice
Being your own boss sounds exceptionally appealing, right? Who wouldn't want to go off on their own and run their own practice? One of the pros of being a physical therapist is that you will have complete freedom to open your own practice. You can make your own hours; you will have no limitations to what kinds of patients you see or how many times a week you see them. You are not under the direct supervision of anyone but yourself.
12. You may have a nice schedule
As a physical therapist, you can work a pretty lovely schedule. You'll generally have a flexible work schedule as a physical therapist. Most of the time you won't have to work weekends and evenings. You'll generally have regular office hours that you need to keep during the time that you are scheduled to be at work.
13. You will be seen as an excellent and knowledgeable resource.
You will be seen as an excellent and knowledgeable resource within your work environment. You are a trusted expert in your field, and people will appreciate how you seem to know everything about the body. Being such a valuable and knowledgeable part of the healthcare team is one of the advantages of being a physical therapist. You will often be asked for advice and feel a sense of accomplishment as you provide helpful information that helps others. This is going to make you feel great about your job.
The Bottom Line
So, as you can see, being a physical therapist can be an exciting prestigious career with many benefits but can also have various disadvantages. The decision to become a physical therapist is not for everyone. What are the pros and cons of being a physical therapist? The top 13 pros and cons of being a physical therapist that I presented to you are definitely something to think about. You will need to weigh the pros and cons before making this critical choice. At some point, though, you and only you will need to decide if this career path is right for you or not.
Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.