SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION: Health & Science Career Advice

Physical therapy

Sunday, February 6, 2011; 9:00 AM

The Aging Baby Boomer Generation Does Not Want to Be Slowed Down

More people are surviving serious illnesses and accidents and want to get back on their feet. And young athletes want to avoid serious career-ending injuries. All this adds up to a rocketing growth in the field of physical therapy. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the occupation is expected to grow by 30 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Physical therapists (PTs) are health care professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to the very oldest, who have health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. They help patients by providing services that restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain and prevent or limit permanent disabilities.

And apparently, they are happy doing so.

Nearly three-quarters of physical therapists reported being "highly satisfied" with their job, according to a 2007 survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. This rank puts the profession only second to clergy when it comes to job satisfaction.

"In my experience, a career in physical therapy is very rewarding," Janet Bezner, deputy executive director of the Alexandria-based American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) said. "[PTs] have multiple opportunities all the time to improve the lives of others. That's not to say that all [patients] recover 100 percent. If you're looking for that, you are going to be frustrated. It's important to make sure you are the right person for this field."

As the name itself suggests, the job is physical in nature and requires moving patients and demonstrating exercises. It is not uncommon to go home with sore muscles. Other daily tasks include developing treatment plans and testing and measuring a patient's strength, range of motion, balance and coordination. Most PTs are generalists, and in one workday may treat a brain-injured child, a stroke victim and a breast cancer survivor.

Unlike previous decades, PTs are now required to receive a graduate degree--in most cases a clinical doctorate--from an accredited physical therapist program before taking the national licensure examination.

APTA estimates there are 180,000 PTs licensed in the United States and of those about 140,000 are actively treating patients. Others are working in academic or research situations. There are 1,470 licensed PTs in the District of Columbia.

The majority of PTs, who in 2009 earned a median annual salary of $74,480, practice in private outpatient office or group practice settings. Job opportunities should be particularly good in acute hospital, skilled nursing and orthopedic settings, where the elderly are most often treated.

"This profession is best suited to those who want to help people," Bezner said. "They are drawn to it because it's a helping profession. They should have good interpersonal skills; have to be very curious and love to learn, because the science behind this practice is significant. Most importantly, interested individuals should have a strong desire to take a situation of someone who may be unbelievably limited and make it better."

This special advertising section was written by Heather Kempskie, a freelance writer, in conjunction with The Washington Post Advertising Custom Content Department. The production of this supplement did not involve The Washington Post news or editorial staff.

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