Physical Therapist Job Description and Role Based on Work Environment
People who suffer from injuries or disabling conditions such as fractures, arthritis, head injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, or cerebral palsy, will turn to physical therapy for help. These healthcare professionals use a wide variety of techniques referred to as modalities to improve mobility, restore function, limit or prevent permanent disabilities and to relieve pain in their patients. The physical therapist will also supervise physical therapy assistants. They’re also part of a team that includes speech therapists, occupational therapists, and family doctors. The physical therapist job description can vary from patient to patient depending on their treatment needs, in addition to the PT’s place of employment.
The duties and role of the PT can also be significantly impacted based on their area of specialty. However, the goals of treatment often remain the same, which is a desire to improve the patient’s quality of life, while minimizing pain and preventing repeat injuries from reoccurring in the future.
Basic Duties of the Physical Therapist
The physical therapist manages a wide range of conditions. Patients pursue physical therapy services so they can benefit from a highly individualized plan of care that’s very hands on. The PT will examine a patient and develop these plans of care, which is designed to reduce pain, promote movement, prevent disability, and restore function. The PT will work with the patient and their family members or caregivers to ensure that the goals of the plan are met and the patient is progressing.
Functional training and therapeutic exercises are the cornerstones of any PT treatment plan. Depending on the needs of the patient, the PT can massage a muscle or manipulate a joint to promote proper function and movement. A physical therapist can also use other techniques such as ultrasound, electrotherapy, and ice and heat, in addition to other treatments. The therapist can also help prevent the loss of mobility by creating a wellness and fitness oriented program for a healthier, more active lifestyle.
The PT’s responsibilities include implementing, diagnosing, and examining a plan of care. A patient exam will include testing strength, muscle function, coordination and balance, the range of motion, motor function, and skin integrity, activities of daily living, posture, and respiration. The therapist will also determine the patient’s ability to re-enter the community or workforce after an injury or illness.
Once an exam is complete and a diagnosis has been reached, the therapist will design the care plan, which will include both short and long-term goals and interventions. This can include manual and mobilization therapy, family and patient education, motor development and learning, vestibular training, traction, and exercise. Interventions typically include the use of adaptive and assistive devices such as prosthetics, orthotics, wheelchairs, and crutches. Teaching patients the correct ways to perform or move when completing particular tasks in order to promote wellness and prevent further injury is another important component of physical therapy patient management.
Physical Therapist Work Environment
While many physical therapists work in hospitals, more than eighty percent will practice in other settings.
Acute care is a term used to describe physical therapy work that’s provided to individuals who are admitted to a hospital for short term care needs that result from an accident, surgery or an illness. In this setting, the goal is to discharge the patient as soon as she or he is stable.
Working in a rehab facility, the PT will provide care to individuals with the goal of improving the patient’s ability to care for themselves. This is accomplished by providing intense therapy on a daily basis.
In a skilled nursing facility, the PT provides care to individuals who are admitted to a facility that generally cares for elderly patients.
An outpatient clinic is a common work setting for PTs. A patient will visit a physical therapy office or clinic in order to address neuromuscular or musculoskeletal impairments or injuries.
In the sports fitness field, physical therapy is provided to patients with a focus on wellness. The PT will use an approach to health and wellness by emphasizing injury and illness prevention and by promoting a healthier lifestyle. The settings can include sports training facilities and fitness centers.
Home health treatment will take place in a patient’s home. While most patients are senior citizens, there are also patients with developmental disabilities and pediatric patients. Individuals of all ages who need in-home care can benefit from regular physical therapy sessions. Additionally, home health services can also be provided in a group home, skilled nursing facility, or hospice.
In a hospice setting, PT is provided to patients during the last phases of a terminal disease so that the patient can maintain functional abilities for as long as possible. In this setting, physical therapy can also be used as a form of pain management.
In the workplace, physical therapy is provided to people primarily in order to help them to return to work, or for the purpose of improving safety, enhancing health, and increasing productivity.
In a federal, state, or local government setting, PT is provided to both military personnel and civilians. Physical therapists are employed by many federal agencies including Indian Health Services, Department of Defense, and the Veteran’s Health Administration.
In a research center setting, the physical therapist will conduct research in order to improve patient care outcomes.
Job Satisfaction and Outlook
While in the past year there has been in increase in graduates of physical therapy master’s and doctoral programs, there is a projected shortage of PTs in the future. With the increase in health insurance coverage all over the country, the demand for physical therapists will continue to increase for the next five years.
In fact, last year, Forbes magazine names the physical therapy career as one of the best career options in the country.
While the demand for this position tends to vary by geographical region and specialties, the unemployment rates for physical therapists, in general, remains very low. The need for these healthcare professionals is expected to remain strong for the foreseeable future as the population ages and the demand for this type of expert healthcare service continues to grow.