Physical Therapist (PT)

Work Activities/Work Locations

  • Physical Therapists (PTs) are licensed health care professionals who diagnose and oversee the management of patients in order to improve the physical and functional abilities of a patient. They help individuals maintain optimal health and fitness, and prevent onset or progression of impairments, functional limitations and disabilities related to disease, disorders, and other conditions.
  • They teach patients proper exercises and use a variety of equipment and activities to help patients strengthen muscles and improve mobility, restore function and relieve pain.
  • Physical Therapists are trained to test and measure a patient’s motor abilities, strength, coordination, and respiratory and circulatory efficiency.
  • Physical Therapists review a physician’s recommendations and the patient’s medical record to determine most appropriate physical therapy treatment.
  • Although a large number of Physical Therapists work in hospitals, now more than 70 per cent can be found in private physical therapy offices, rehabilitation centers, community health centers, nursing homes, home health agencies, corporate or industrial health centers, sports facilities, research institutions, schools, pediatric centers, and colleges and universities.

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Admission to Physical Therapy programs is competitive. Schools consider a minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE score, hours of experience in the field, letters of recommendation, and a personal interview.
  • Physical Therapy is a profession for those who enjoy science.
  • Physical Therapists have the opportunity to improve the lives of people from birth to elder and from athletes to those with disabilities.
  • Their work includes lifting, bending, standing, and other mobile activities while working closely with patients.
  • Physical Therapists may work in two or more different places or locations at the same time or travel to the patient.

Getting Started

  • High School Courses
    • Students should take a college preparatory curriculum.
    • High School students should study biology, anatomy & physiology, math and possibly statistics, psychology, chemistry, physics, health, and social sciences.
    • Shadowing and/or volunteering in the field are recommended.
  • Education and Training
    • The American Physical Therapist Association (APTA) plans by 2020 the majority of practicing physical therapists will possess a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Schools in Wisconsin are making the transition to a Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT). For instance, the last Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy from UW-LaCrosse was in 2006.
    • A Bachelor’s Degree in any major, completing the prerequisite courses, is required for application for admittance into a Doctorate PT program.
    • At University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, Pre-Physical Therapy is one option of study that students may declare. Students will graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science.
    • Some schools offer both the undergraduate and Doctorate program.
    • At Carroll College the entry-level Physical Therapy Doctorate Program consists of a 6-year course of study divided into two phases: Pre-Professional Physical Therapy for 3 years and Professional Physical Therapy for 3 years. Students with a Bachelor’s degree from another university can enter the Doctorate PT program but will spend an additional 3 years, for a total of 7 years.
    • UW-LaCrosse has a Pre-Physical Therapy major that includes prerequisite courses and two 20-hour clinical work experiences.
    • UW-LaCrosse’s Doctorate program (DPT) takes 9 semesters (34 months) completing along with course work, 5 clinical internships beginning the second semester.
    • UW-LaCrosse currently (2015) requires prior to applying from any applicant not taking their undergraduate at LaCrosse to complete two 20-hour clinical work experiences where students can shadow a licensed physical therapist in two different health care settings.
    • UW-Madison has a 3-year Doctorate in Physical Therapy program that one applies to after earning a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited college and meeting the prerequisite courses. Their program has two 9-week and one 12-week clinical internship.
    • Physical Therapy curriculum courses include kinesiology/biomechanics, exercise physiology, pathology, statistics, neuroanatomy, studies in disease, and research and rehabilitative procedures, Musculoskeletal Dysfunction: Diagnosis & Management trigonometry, advanced writing, and psychology.
    • Supervised clinical experience is a large part of physical therapy educational programs.
    • Upon completion of their degree from an accredited program, students must pass an examination, the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE).

    Educational Institutions

    Carroll University
    Concordia University
    Marquette University
    University of Wisconsin – La Crosse
    University of Wisconsin – Madison
    University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee

    Pre-Professional Programs

    Beloit College
    Carroll University
    Carthage College
    Lawrence University
    Marian University
    Northland College
    Ripon College
    University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire
    University of Wisconsin – Green Bay
    University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse
    University of Wisconsin – Madison
    University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
    University of Wisconsin – Oskhosh
    University of Wisconsin – Platteville
    University of Wisconsin – River Falls
    University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point
    University of Wisconsin – Stout
    University of Wisconsin – Superior
    University of Wisconsin – Waukesha
    University of Wisconsin – Whitewater
    Viterbo College
    Wisconsin Lutheran College

    Hospitals with Associated Educational Programs

    Gundersen Medical Foundation, La Crosse

  • Method of Entry
    • Because entry into physical therapy programs is competitive, it is recommended that students focus on obtaining exceptional grades in high school and college as well as performing some volunteer work in the field.
    • One must graduate from an accredited physical therapy program, pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and be licensed in his/her given state.
    • Although there is no specific major required for entrance into a physical therapy program, the undergraduate major often is biology, physical education or self-designed.
    • There are prerequisites for Physical Therapy programs. Students are advised to check the individual requirements of the schools to which they plan to apply to ensure that all prerequisites can be obtained in a timely manner. The undergraduate prerequisites usually include biology, human anatomy & physiology, chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology, and statistics.
  • Professional Organizations

    American Physical Therapy Association
    1111 N. Fairfax St.
    Alexandria, VA, 22314-1488
    703/684-2782 or 800/999-2782

    Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education
    1111 North Fairfax Street
    Alexandria, VA, 22314-1488

    Sports Physical Therapy Section
    PO Box 431
    Zionsville, IN, 46077-0431

    Wisconsin Physical Therapy Association
    3510 E. Washington Ave.
    Madison, WI, 53704
    608/221-9191 or 866/367-6978

Career Outlook

Number Employed in 2014 (Wisconsin): 4,190
Percent Employment Growth (2014-2024): 16%
Expected Annual Openings: 180
Median Salary in 2014 (Wisconsin): $81,271

Salary information is located at Career One Stop

Wisconsin AHEC Health Careers Information Center provides the most current salary information available from CareerOneStop. CareerOneStop will have a lapse between when the information is gathered and when it is released.

  • Physical Therapists usually work 40 hours a week.
  • They can work weekends, shifts, and/or holidays
  • Clinical specialization opportunities such as Clinical Residencies are available to Physical Therapists. Specialties include Orthopedic (OCS), Neurologic (NCS), Pediatric (PCS), Sports (SCS), Geriatric (GCS), Cardiovascular and Pulmonary (CCS), and Clinical Electrophysiologic (ECS).
  • Gundersen Lutheran in LaCrosse is the first public institution to attain the distinction of offering a Sports Physical Therapy Clinical Residency Program for graduated medical students and physicians. This program provides the clinician with an opportunity to develop advanced competencies in clinically based sports physical therapy.