Physical Therapist Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: June 22, 2022

A Physical Therapist, or Physical Therapy Technician, performs treatments and exercises to help patients recover from illnesses and injuries. Their main duties include using various treatment techniques to develop personalized treatment plans, prescribing medications to relieve pain and increase mobility and teaching patients exercise techniques to improve their health.


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Physical Therapist duties and responsibilities

Physical therapists can work in hospitals, private offices, nursing homes and other facilities. A Physical Therapist is responsible for a range of duties that include the following:

  • Consult with patients to learn about their physical condition and symptoms and review their medical history and referrals from doctors or surgeons
  • Diagnose movement dysfunction by listening to patients and observing them as they move about
  • Develop an individualized treatment plan
  • Coach patients and teach them therapeutic exercises and stretches to improve their condition
  • Use hands-on therapy such as massage to ease patients’ pain and provide stimulation to promote healing
  • Maintain patient records by keeping track of goals and progress while adapting treatment plans accordingly
  • Advise patients and their families on in-home treatment options and what to expect from the recovery process


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Physical Therapist Job Description Examples

What does a Physical Therapist do?

Physical Therapists are healthcare professionals who use techniques like massages, movement trainings and exercises to help people recover from their injuries or illnesses. They’ll work closely with patients to learn more about their conditions to develop personalized treatment plans that will return them back to normal health. 

Physical Therapists may perform treatments on patients while they’re staying in the hospital or medical facility. They’ll later educate the patients and their family members on how to perform these exercises and treatments while at home when the patient is released from the facility.


Physical Therapist skills and qualifications

A great Physical Therapist will have the following skills:

  • Compassion and empathy for patients, who are often in pain
  • Attention to detail regarding a patient’s problems to analyze what they need to ease their pain and to prevent further injury
  • Physical stamina to lift patients and spend long hours standing and modeling exercises
  • Interpersonal skills to build positive relationships with patients and motivate them
  • Communication skills to interact clearly with doctors and family members as well as patients


Physical Therapist salary expectations

A Physical Therapist makes an average salary of $1,673 per week. Pay rate may depend on level of experience, education and the geographical location.


Physical Therapist education and training requirements

A Physical Therapist must have received a doctorate in a physical therapy degree program, which usually takes three years to complete and requires earning a bachelor’s degree first. A Physical Therapist also needs to complete a clinical internship in an area such as orthopedic care or acute care. Physical Therapists must be licensed, although specific license requirements differ depending on the state. The National Physical Therapy Examination is one exam required in all states. 


Therapist experience requirements

Necessary job experience for this position can vary. The length of experience you require in your job description is based on the job you are posting for, but it is generally at least one year of experience. Physical Therapists earn experience as part of their training and licensing requirements as well.


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Frequently asked questions about Physical Therapists


Who reports to a Physical Therapist?

The person who typically reports to a Physical Therapist is a Physical Therapy Assistant. The Physical Therapist will work with the patient to develop a treatment plan and will instruct the Physical Therapy Assistant on how to administer the medication or treatment exercise. 

The Physical Therapy Assistant will then help the patient perform these exercises or treatment methods and will report their progress to the Physical Therapist. After hearing these updates, the Physical Therapist will provide adjustments to the treatment plan and directions for the Physical Therapist to follow. 


What settings do Physical Therapists typically work in?

Physical Therapists can work in a wide variety of settings. Most of them may work in medical clinics or private offices, providing care to patients who come in for regular appointments to help them improve their mobility, strength and movement. 

Others may work in hospitals, providing more immediate or emergency care to patients undergoing or recovering from surgery or treatment. Some operate in assisted living facilities, offering long-term treatment and exercise plans to patients who are diagnosed with severe illnesses or injuries. 


What are the different types of Physical Therapists?

Physical Therapists can work in a variety of fields. Some of them may serve in medical facilities performing basic exercises and treatment plans for patients diagnosed with a majority of different health conditions. Some Physical Therapists specialize in certain disorders, injuries or illnesses. 

Orthopedic Physical Therapists work closely with conditions and injuries that affect patients’ muscles, bones, tendons, connective tissues or ligaments. Geriatric Physical Therapists work primarily with elderly patients to help them stay healthy as their bodies age. Sports Physical Therapists provide support and treatment to Athletes recovering from injuries they receive after playing sports. 


What makes a good Physical Therapist?

A great Physical Therapist should have effective problem-solving and critical thinking abilities to identify and diagnose illnesses or injuries a patient is experiencing. Since they regularly work with their hands to apply exercise or massage treatments, Physical Therapists should have impressive dexterity. 

Strong communication skills are also important for the ideal candidate to have to professionally and clearly explain a patient’s treatment plan and condition to patients, families and Physical Therapy Assistants. Physical Therapists usually meet with several patients each day, so great time management skills are necessary to ensure they spend enough time with each patient and finish their exercises and treatment plans in a timely manner.

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