A Guide to Physical Therapist Advancement Opportunities

Looking for physical therapist advancement opportunities? Our pt career guide covers manager roles, niche services, ownership, work-life balance, & more.

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A Guide to Physical Therapist Advancement Opportunities

Physical therapy is a lucrative career, ranking as the third best health care job and sixth best job overall, according to US News and World Report's Best Job Rankings. With an unemployment rate of 0.7%, you will easily find job openings in the physical therapy field. Also, consider the many advancement opportunities for physical therapists you have available. Your career may lead to leadership or specialization. Your future in the physical therapy industry depends on you.

Main Takeaways From This Article:

  • Your physical therapy career has room for growth after you get your certification.
  • Physical therapist advancement opportunities include management, specialization, and owning a practice.
  • Develop your skills to advance in your physical therapist career with continuing education and leadership development.

Advancement Opportunities for Physical Therapists: Three Physical Therapy Careers to Consider

Your physical therapy career can continue to grow. Expand your options by managing a practice, becoming a specialist, or starting your own clinic. Each path provides you with chances to leverage your managerial skills, gain more education, and be your own boss.

1. Becoming a Clinic Manager or Director at a Physical Therapy Practice

Clinic Manager Responsibilities

Become a physical therapy manager and increase your responsibility. You may need to return to school to take classes in business management for this position.

As a clinic manager, you still treat patients. However, you also have responsibilities for adding and training staff. Hiring quality physical therapists and physical therapist assistants lays the foundation for building a profitable clinic. Consequently, your managerial role influences the future of the clinic's operations.

Rehabilitation Services Director Responsibilities

Another option with more responsibility is a role as a rehabilitation services director. This managerial role puts you in charge of a more extensive operation. Often, you will need more education to learn about occupational therapy and speech therapy to coordinate these services with physical therapy for patient rehab plans. Those who progress to directorial roles often have years of management experience, often as clinic managers.

Advantages of a Managerial Role

It Lets You Exercise Business Skills

You don't have to let college courses in business go to waste. Similarly, if you developed business skills in your life, you don't have to forget those. Use the knowledge from those classes or skills with your PT certification in a managerial or directorial position.

It May Prevent Burnout

PT burnout often happens from long hours or demanding schedules. More variety in your work reduces burnout from long hours only treating patients. Plus, as a clinic manager or director, you have more control over hiring and scheduling to reduce workloads and scheduling problems for yourself and others. Thus, you can reduce the chances that you or others at your practice burn out.

2. Offering Niche Physical Therapy Services

Consider certification in a specialty field of physical therapy. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specializations (ABPTS) establishes requirements for specialty certification in ten fields. According to the American Physical Therapy Association Specialist Certification, by June 2022, 35,043 PTs earned specialty certification in one of these niche areas. These PT specialties and the number of certified physical therapists within each are:  

  • Orthopedics: 20,003
  • Neurology: 4,159
  • Geriatrics: 3,837
  • Sports: 2,961
  • Pediatrics: 2,555
  • Women's Health: 681
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary: 459
  • Clinical Electrophysiology: 216
  • Oncology: 160
  • Wound Care: 12

Certification is voluntary. Therefore, you can practice within a specialty niche without certification. When gathering clinical hours to qualify for the exam, you must treat patients within a specific niche. Obtaining certification, though, provides your patients with proof of the time and education you've dedicated to that field.

You will need to qualify for a specialist certification exam. You must meet the following to sign up to take a specialty certification exam:

  • Have an unrestricted, current physical therapy license to practice in the United States.
  • Have completed at least 2,000 hours of clinical time in your specialty.
  • Additional requirements for certification within a specialty depend on which niche you want to pursue, as each has individual requirements.

Advantages of Seeking Niche Certification

Help Patients with Specific Needs

Some patients will have physical therapy needs that may require you to have advanced education and skills. Specializing in a PT niche gives you the tools to treat these patients better.

Earn Recognition for Your Education and Skills

With a certification in a specialty, you gain recognition for spending additional time focusing on that field. This recognition will help you market yourself as an expert in that field of physical therapy.

3. Starting Your Own PT Clinic

If you have experience as a clinical manager and prefer the administrative side of physical therapy, consider starting a PT clinic. Use our Ultimate Guide on How to Start a Private Physical Therapy Practice for a step-by-step listing of everything you need to know before you dive into clinic ownership.

Considerations for Opening a PT Clinic in 2023

Make sure to stay abreast of the most important topics for PT practices today, such as encouraging PT and PTA self-care and using evidence-based metrics for tracking effectiveness.

Additionally, you'll need to plan for the future. Doing so requires you to find ways to use technology to your advantage and keep your physical therapists from burning out.

Advantages of Owning a Clinic

You Are the Boss

You take charge of every aspect of running the clinic. Therefore, success rests on your shoulders. If you enjoy management and have great ideas for growing your clinic, owning a physical therapy practice will satisfy these.

You Have a Maximum Amount of Flexibility  

Owning a private practice gives you the maximum amount of flexibility. You choose your schedule, which days you operate, and how many staff you want to hire. This aspect of owning a private practice appeals to self-starters who need flexible schedules to thrive.

How To Develop Your Skills for Advancement

Keep learning and developing your skills to advance your physical therapy career.

1. Continuing Education

Continuing education units (CEU) are part of maintaining your physical therapy license. Make the most of your continuing education courses by using the extra learning to improve your physical therapy career. From undergraduate programs to accelerate PTAs' progress toward becoming physical therapists to specialization certifications for physical therapists, you'll find an education option that can help you move your physical therapist career forward.  

Undergraduate Programs

Some universities provide PTAs with course plans that allow them to graduate with a bachelor of sciences degree that prepares them for a doctor of physical therapy program. Additionally, these programs have useful courses in practice management and specialized care areas.  

PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways  

Physical therapy assistants have opportunities to increase their education through the PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways (APA). This program mirrors the specialty certification offered for physical therapists. The program gives you additional learning in one of eight physical therapy fields and recognizes you upon completion for ten years.

Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy

If you are a PTA and want to become a physical therapist, you need a doctor of physical therapy degree (DPT). Typically, this program requires three years to complete. However, most programs require you to already have an undergraduate degree before entering the DPT program.

PT Specialization Certification

Earning a physical therapy specialization certification is voluntary and can enhance your visibility and reputation among patients with specific physical therapy needs.

2. Leadership Development

Leadership skills are essential to opening your own practice, becoming a clinic manager, or stepping into a directorial role.

Credentialed Clinical Instructor

The APTA offers Credentialed Clinical Instructor courses to improve the teaching skills of physical therapists. These courses will help you train new hires if you become a manager or owner of a physical therapy practice.

APTA Resources for Leadership Programs

Enhance your leadership skills with one of the many resources the APTA provides for leadership courses. These courses have various requirements and help you learn management techniques and become a leader in your clinic and community.

The Bottom Line: Maximize Your Potential with MWTherapy

With an industry in high demand, physical therapy offers multiple career paths and advancement options. You have multiple ways to grow, from becoming a director to specializing in a niche to operating your own clinic.

Whichever advancement path you choose, you will need help with the administrative side of things.

Let MWTherapy practice management software handle your practice's scheduling, billing, EMR handling, and other daily tasks while you focus on your career goals. Contact us for a demo to see how MWTherapy software can contribute to your physical therapy practice and help you advance your career.

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