Utilizing Your Physical Therapy Degree
Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants are part of one of the most in-demand and growing professions. As the US population ages, demand for the services of those with a physical therapy degree will grow.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 30% increase in the field from 2008 to 2018 and physical therapists enjoy a low unemployment rate of only 0.2%. In addition, the physical therapy profession is one of the most rewarding. CNNMoney.com ranked physical therapist number 4 on its list of “Best Jobs in America” for 2010, and in 2009 US News and World Report listed physical therapist on its list of best careers.
A recent survey from the National Opinion Research Center placed physical therapist second only to clergy in ranking job satisfaction. Physical therapists are also well-compensated, with salaries approaching $80,000 per year. However, in order to land one of these rewarding positions, someone with a physical therapy degree needs to be able to market himself and make a good impression on potential employers. This involves preparing an attractive, concise resume, making a good impression during an interview, earning excellent letters of recommendation, and sometimes participating in an internship to hone clinical skills.
Often, one of the most important factors in finding the perfect job is networking, and so it is important not to overlook personal contacts. Local and national professional societies are a great place to build relationships with others in the field who may know of an opening or one day, may be in charge of hiring for a position.
A resume should not just be a listing of all of one’s educational and work experiences. It should
highlight the applicant’s skills, and what he brings to the job, in a clear, concise format. Resumes
will typically start with contact information and often, with a statement of objective. The objective
should not be “to get a job” but should be specific and relevant to the position for which one is
applying. An objective statement is typically 1-3 lines of text that highlights the applicant’s
professional goals, what he expects from a job, and what he has to offer the employer. An example of a
statement of objective might be: “To obtain a position as a physical therapy assistant in an orthopedic
healthcare facility where I can utilize my education and training, as well as my interpersonal skills to
provide the highest level of patient care.” Alternatively, this information may be included as part of a
cover letter instead.
A resume typically includes information on the educational training of the applicant next. This is
usually done in chronological order. List any degrees you have obtained or are currently working on and
any certifications or special training you have received. Include your GPA only if it was very high and
list any awards or
scholarships you may have received. If your physical therapy degree education
includes an internship, highlight the various areas in which you were trained during that time.
The next, and probably most important, part of the resume is the “experience” section. This is a
listing of work experience, typically with the most recent listed first. It is important to keep a
resume “readable” as employers read so many resumes that one which is too wordy is off-putting. Thus,
this section is often done using bullet points. The resume should list the position title, the company
or organization, and they time period employed there. Under each position should be a bullet list of
responsibilities and accomplishments that the applicant had while in that position. This section should
use powerful action words such as “accomplished,” “initiated,” “managed,” and “coordinated” in order for
the applicant to put their best foot forward and make them look strong, proactive, and focused. These
experiences should be targeted to the position for which the applicant is applying. For example, if the
position is within a nursing home, the applicant should emphasize any geriatric experience they may
have. The applicant may also want to include in his resume, a list of specific techniques, exercises, or
technical equipment with which he is experienced.
Finally, neatness counts. The resume should be free from spelling and grammatical errors. Use the
word processor’s spell check feature and have a friend read it as well. Use a simple standard font such
as Arial or Times New Roman and a font size of 10 or 12. These tips will ensure that you put your best
foot forward and increase your chances of getting the job you want.
Almost all employers will require an interview before making an offer of employment. The interview is probably the most important part of the process, the event that determines whether or not the employer is interested, and so it is important that the applicant be well-prepared and makes a good impression. Before the interview, find out everything you can about the position and the company. Be prepared to address how your physical therapy degree, skills, and experience fit into the specific job and the company or clinic goals and environment, and how they will contribute to the success of both the company goals and your personal goals. If possible, try to find out a little about the people with whom you will actually be speaking during the interview, as well. Practice interviewing. Don’t just rehearse answers in your head, but have a friend role-play with you so you can practice speaking to another person.
Try to keep your answers concise and don’t ramble on about topics the interviewer did not specifically address. Practice over and over, answers to typical interview questions:
- What should we know about you?
- Why should we hire you?
- What were the most significant accomplishments in your last job?
- What are your greatest strengths and what are your weaknesses?
Try to keep your answers under 2 minutes long. Try to keep your responses positive. For example, if asked why you left your previous job, it is best not to state that your boss was a jerk. Interviewers may not remember specific responses you gave but will remember generally negative feelings. Focus your responses on all the positives that you have accomplished and how those positives qualify you for the position. In an interview, it is often the little things that matter. Arrive on time. Shake hands with the interviewer. Smile and be polite and courteous to everyone, including the receptionist. Always make eye contact when talking. Be a good listener and adapt to the style of the interviewer. Make sure your cell phone is turned off. Dress in an appropriate, professional, and conservative manner. It’s alright to be nervous on the inside, but don’t fidget, sit up straight, and display confidence on the outside. Bring a notepad and take notes during the interview. Be prepared to ask questions of the interviewer. These impress upon the interviewer that you are serious about the job and have researched, and thought about, the position.
Examples of questions to ask the interviewer are:
- Why is this position open?
- What are some of the goals or long-term objectives you would like to see accomplished with this position?
- How is one evaluated in this position?
At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer, shake his hand, ask for a business card so that
you can send him a thank you note, and send the hand-written note within a few days of the interview. As
the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. In order to get your dream
job, you need to be prepared to “wow” them at the interview.
Many potential employers will ask for references or letters of recommendation. A reference letter is
a letter from someone with whom the applicant has had extensive workplace interactions and who is
familiar with the applicant’s accomplishments. The letter serves to help the potential employer gauge
whether the applicant is appropriate for the position for which he has applied. Letters typically come
from former or current teachers, supervisors, or co-workers of the applicant. In selecting people to
serve as references, you should think about what those individuals know about you, your physical therapy
degree, and your accomplishments. The reference should be someone very familiar with your work, not
simply an acquaintance in the same office or someone you know only socially. Obviously, you do not want
to select a reference who might not know you well or might not speak of you in positive terms. Be
certain what that person will say about you. If you fear he may write a ho-hum or unenthusiastic
recommendation, select someone else. Contact the individuals you plan to use as references and get their
permission well in advance. You don’t want them to be surprised if they are contacted by a potential
employer. If they seem hesitant at all to serve as your reference, don’t use them.
Provide each person who agrees to serve as your reference, a copy of your resume so he can
familiarize himself with all of your accomplishments; he may be familiar with what you have done for
him, but not what you have achieved elsewhere. If possible, also provide him with the job description
for the position for which you are applying. This way, his letter can address specific qualities that
you have that will complement what the employer wants. Encourage the letter writer to mention the
capacity in which he knows you (i.e., he was your supervisor, teacher, etc.) and the duration of your
acquaintance. The body of the letter should then address your positive qualities such as leadership,
drive, and initiative and accomplishments that you have had on the job. He might address issues such as
how you interact with patients, how you demonstrated proficiency in the clinics or how you received top
grades in the class. The letter often finishes on a more personal note, stating how well you work with
others, that you are trusted and respected by your co-workers, and that you have a warm and pleasant
Most employment specialists today suggest that one not include references on a resume unless the
employer specifically asks for them. Don’t bother stating “References available upon request.” This is
a waste of valuable resume space and most employers will assume you can provide them if requested.
An internship is an excellent way to gain valuable clinical experience that can give a physical
therapy professional a boost into the job market. In fact, in some physical therapy training
institutions, a clinical internship is built into the program and is part of the requirement for
graduation. The physical therapy degree may be awarded before, during or after the internship. A
physical therapy internship is a training period during which the intern performs physical therapy
treatments on patients under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. The intern may evaluate
and treat patients in a wide variety of settings and assist the senior physical therapist in developing
a treatment plan and in implementing that plan to improve the health, mobility, and well-being of the
The internship is a chance for the trainee to gain valuable practical experience, not only in the
practice of physical therapy methods, but also in the day-to-day operations of a clinical setting.
Another advantage of internships is that they can be a way for an inexperienced therapist to get his
foot in the door at an institution or clinic where he would like to be employed but for which he doesn’t
yet have the experience or qualifications to seek regular employment. If the young physical therapist
can obtain an internship at that clinic and impress the staff with his knowledge and hard work, he may
have the upper hand in obtaining a position there later on. Another benefit of internships is that they
give the student an opportunity to experience a specific area of practice in which he may be interested
in specializing but to which he is not yet entirely committed. For example, if a student thinks that
they may be interested in specializing in neurology, he may try to obtain an internship in a neurology-
oriented clinic in order to gain insight that will help him decide if that is the career path he wants
to pursue. Internships can be as short as a four- or eight-week summer experience or a year-long
commitment. Some provide stipends or even paid positions while others expect the student to cover his
own expenses entirely.
Preparing for an internship can be similar to preparing for a job. While some training programs have
internships built into the process, other internships are available on a competitive basis. The student
applies for the intern position in a manner similar to applying for a job. There is likely an
application to fill out, and the applicant might be asked for a resume, letters of reference, and even
an interview, in order to win a coveted position at one of the more prestigious institutes.
Last Updated: 02/27/2013