Bachelor's degrees in physical therapy can prepare you for important work helping patients gain mobility and live with less pain. As a physical therapist assistant, you may document and report on the progress of treatment. Supervised by physical therapists, you might teach someone to walk with crutches or provide ultrasound therapy. All this experience paves the way for graduate studies, which are required for licensed physical therapists.
Classwork in physical therapy is heavy in the sciences -- anatomy, biology, biomechanics, chemistry, exercise physiology, pathology, pharmacology and physics -- as well as mathematics and statistics. General education requirements can strengthen your language skills for communicating with colleagues, clients and patients. Hands-on clinical experience complements the academic coursework.
Physical therapy career options, outlook and salaries
With a bachelor's degree, you could work as a physical therapist assistant or a physical therapist aide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Aides need a high school diploma with on-the-job training and are not normally licensed. Physical therapist assistants generally need at least an associate degree, and are regulated in most states. With further training, you could join the ranks of physical therapists, who usually hold master's degrees and are licensed by individual states.
The BLS lists the following 2010-2020 projected job growth rates and 2010 median wages for these careers:
- Physical therapist aides: 43.1 percent; $23,680 salary
- Physical therapist assistants: 45.7 percent; $49,690 salary
- Physical therapists: 39 percent; $76,310 salary
As a PT assistant, you could seek work in home health care services, hospitals, nursing care facilities, physicians' offices, rehabilitation facilities and other settings.
Beyond bachelor's degrees in physical therapy
Both master's degrees and doctorates are accepted paths for physical therapists. Doctoral degrees generally offer more clinical practice and research and may focus on topics such as administration or program development.
Various educational tracks lead to post-baccalaureate degrees in physical therapy; for example, some longer term programs combine undergraduate and graduate degrees. Direct entry master's degree programs, designed for students with undergrad degrees outside the field, include core concepts of physical therapy. Shorter clinical residency programs accept students with bachelor's degrees in physical therapy.
If you're working as a PT assistant and are looking to move up to a physical therapist role, online degree programs are a convenient way to improve your career options while preparing to improve the health of others.