Becoming a PT
April 18, 2012 9:28 PM   Subscribe

How happy are physical therapists/occupational therapists?

How hard is it to go into this line of work?

I think definitely have the personality for it (quiet/shy, eventual goal being self employed, love taking care of people) and am willing to make it happen, especially if it will lead to a stable life in the long term.

However having looked into the school debt for the doctorate... ouch!

Is the debt manageable? What does it feel like to owe 100K and come out of school with half that amount as a salary?

What is the experience coming out the other end of school?-- Coworkers, autonomy, and such?

What is the experience of actually being in school like?

Physical therapy sounds like an awesome destination. Is it? What is the journey like?
posted by kettleoffish to Work & Money (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I know some people who really loved it until they ended up with repetititve strain and arthitis.

Try looking into doing the degree in a country (e.g. Canada or Australia) where the tuition is much lower.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:08 PM on April 18, 2012

Physical therapist here, part time. Physical therapy can be very rewarding to give.
As mentioned above you have to be careful to protect your own body. Do not assume this is something you can do 40 hours a week for years at a time. This has also an impact on the speed with which you can pay back a loan. Hour prices are strongly related to local economy.

The journey is never finished: there are many types of therapy and the human body has endless variations. A possible coarse division in 4 areas is: muscles - ligaments / skeleton / viscera (internal organs/ craniosacral treatment. All of these can involve years of training.

As you do not know beforehand which type of therapy is for you, why not take a simple (so no 100K) course in say Swedish massage and start treating people? If you do not like it, you will have learned something cheaply without a huge investment.
posted by Eltulipan at 2:06 AM on April 19, 2012

As someone who's needed physical therapy, I'd like to point out that the work isn't easy for someone who is quiet and shy. A physical therapist works with many people, and needs to talk with them.

You might like work that helps people but leaves you with more time alone. Examples might be a technician that builds artificial limbs or maybe a medical researcher.

good luck!
posted by mirileh at 3:35 AM on April 19, 2012

I'm quiet/shy, and a speech pathologist, which is another people-oriented job. It is possible to do that type of job, and do it well, if you're shy. But it will make it more challenging.

You're right that it's a big investment. Have you considered training to be a physical therapy aide or a certified occupational therapy aide? Then you'd get some experience with the work without the investment in a costly degree. If you love it and want to continue on, then you can.

But to answer your question, the PTs and OTs I work with seem happy. The job market here in Wisconsin isn't super, but everyone manages to find something. You're bound by a lot of rules and paperwork, but you don't have a supervisor looking over your shoulder all day - you're kind of on your own. The experience will vary by the setting you work in - rehab facility, school, hospital, home-based therapy, etc. It's interesting work. If I had to do it over again I'd definitely consider being an OT.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:27 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

When a family member was in the hospital recently for a knee replacement, the physical therapist seemed happy to me. Her demeanor was that of a friendly coach. Lots of talking and positive reinforcement.

She seemed a little shy, but it's hard to tell, as she walked in on some post nausea vomiting and possibly just wanted to escape. I don't think shyness is a problem, as long as you can overcome it.

I did note that she was unusually muscular. I would imagine that physical strength makes a big difference in how much wear and tear you might put on your body.
posted by gjc at 5:41 AM on April 19, 2012

Occupational therapists and physical therapists don't do the same kind of work, at least in the US. Here's the job outlook for occupational therapists.
posted by mareli at 5:51 AM on April 19, 2012

And a link to their professional organization's list of accredited programs.

I thought of doing this many years ago because I'd met a couple of occupational therapists who worked in a mental hospital. They did a lot of arts and crafts, woodworking, cooking, sewing. It seemed like a good way to turn people on to the pleasure of creating things with your own hands.
posted by mareli at 5:58 AM on April 19, 2012

I know 4-5 PTs and OTs. Outside of speech pathologists, I don't know if I've met a group of people that love their job more.
posted by sandmanwv at 7:06 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Getting into a PT program is hard. I have heard some say harder than getting into med school. I don't know about that but I do know it is hard. Programs are demanding but the education and the work are very rewarding. You will notice that the first comment in this thread mentioned the injury rate. It isn't trivial and these are people who are professionally trained in ways to avoid such injury.
posted by caddis at 7:19 AM on April 19, 2012

All therapists I know here (speech, physical, occupational) seem to at least like their jobs, which is not the case for many jobs!

The only comment I would make to you is that taking care of people all day every day when you're shy means a lot of playing a role. It might be a very pleasant role, but it gets very tiring. I am not naturally loud, but I have to be when I'm working on vocal loudness with people and by the end of the afternoon I'm exhausted.

Good luck!
posted by kadia_a at 9:39 AM on April 19, 2012

My aunt is an occupational therapist. She doesn't have a doctorate. She may have a master's; I'm not sure. She's in her early fifties and has been doing work like this for decades. She works a lot with children who are autistic and/or developmentally delayed. She has always seemed very happy with this work. She's constantly learning new and interesting things and working with different people.

She has mentioned that it's getting harder to sit on the floor so much, and has thought about tweaking what she does so that is no longer necessary.

I think she's much more satisfied and stimulated by her career than the average person, and the pay is decent.
posted by gentian at 11:02 AM on April 19, 2012

My wife is a pediatric PT. She loves it, and it's easier on her body than working with (often obese) adults. There seems to be a lot of paperwork but she likes the autonomy and finds working with children rewarding.

I think the field of PT is broad enough that you can find many different jobs you would like, although I believe any of them will require a fair amount of human interaction (with potentially significant interludes of solitude). E.g., my wife works two days a week in a clinic and three days a week in rural schools. Thus, she gets a lot of time to herself to think or listen to music/podcasts while she motors around, but she interacts with several colleagues in the clinic, plus the kids she treats.

Her school program appeared very grueling. She worked harder than I did in law school, it seemed, but that might be a matter of temperament. She got to dissect a cadaver during school, which you might find fascinating or it may squick you out. I was jealous.

Around here, there were plenty of jobs for everyone in her program, but fewer in her chosen specialty. Whether PT is right for you probably depends on the job market in your area as well as your personality. I'm pretty sure many PTs would let you shadow them for a day to get a taste for the career.
posted by hilaritas at 2:47 PM on April 19, 2012

MY daughter in law is very happy with her PT career, which she went into after leaving the publishing industry. She got her degree from NYU which has an excellent program, and she is a quiet person.
posted by mermayd at 4:02 AM on April 20, 2012

Speaking as a quiet/shy massage therapist, working one on one with people makes all the difference in the world. I'm uncomfortable in large groups, but totally fine in a treatment room interacting with one person. I imagine the poster may be the same.

Nthing that physical therapy is incredibly hard on the body. You will be taught proper body mechanics in school, and being religious about protecting your own health first will serve you well. But body mechanics only go so far; as previously mentioned, PTs don't often work 40-hour weeks, and will often retire earlier than the norm.
posted by parrot_person at 4:06 AM on April 21, 2012

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