Physical Therapist Skills: What You Need to Succeed Now

Physical Therapist Skills: What You Need to Succeed Now

Are you interested in starting a career in the physical therapy field? Perhaps you are already a professional, seeking ways to sharpen your Physical Therapist skills and increase your success.

On the surface, a physical therapy job may seem quite straightforward.

However, there is much more to the job than meets the eye.

Physical Therapist skills are actually very wide-ranging!

You probably know that the fundamental skills needed to be a Physical Therapist require:

  • A passion for helping people
  • The commitment to rehabilitate
  • Helping maintain and develop a patient’s best possible physical health

Becoming a successful Physical Therapist includes honing a series of other attributes that can be applied to a variety of patient situations.

If you are planning on building or furthering a lucrative career in this field, use our physical therapist skills checklist and tips to strengthen your physical therapist skills.

SEE ALSO: How to Get Hired for the Highest Paying Physical Therapy Jobs

Knowledge Based | Physical Therapist Skills: What You Need to Succeed Now

Knowledge-based Physical Therapist Skills

So, exactly what skills do you need to be a physical therapist? According to the College Foundation of North Carolina, the knowledge needed to be a physical therapist is based on three different sets of skills:

  • Basic
  • Transferable
  • Workplace

Basic Skills

This list includes general skills learned throughout the schooling years that play a role in the daily work of a Physical Therapist:

✓  Reading Comprehension

The science and techniques surrounding Physical Therapists constantly evolves. Having strong reading comprehension skills ensures your ability to pick up new information that can benefit your patients.

Make it a point to read one piece of literature per day. It can be a blog post, newspaper, magazine article, or favorite book. (Check out our Twitter feed for helpful work and lifestyle-related articles!)

✓ Communication (Listening)

While much of the job is physical, it is the Physical Therapist’s responsibility to listen to patients prior to and during diagnosis and treatment. Strong listening skills ensure the patient’s needs can be met.

Practice listening skills on a regular basis by asking patients to express their needs. They will trust you more with their health if they know you are hearing their concerns.

Transferable Skills

Some skills required to be a physical therapist actually translate into other professions. This list includes physical therapist skills. That ensures you can work well in a medical setting as a proactive team member.

✓  Giving health care instructions

✓  Operating medical diagnostic equipment

✓  Planning health care treatments

✓  Treating a wide variety physical problems

Grow your transferable skills when the opportunity arises. For example, if a co-worker needs assistance with something not normally under your job responsibilities, helping them means you gain a new skill.

SEE ALSO: Future of Physical Therapy Profession: 6 Exciting Career Insights

Workplace Skills

This physical therapy skills checklist includes skills you need in a workplace. They are more complex and specific to this field.

✓  Strength and Coordination

Physical Therapists can be on their feet, physically supporting patients, handling weights and equipment, and performing massage for multiple hours a day. To be successful in this field, you must have significant strength and coordination to perform the job without risking the well-being of the patients.

Include a regimen of breathing, stretching and exercise to your daily or weekly routine. This can also aid in the release of stress from a long day!

SEE ALSO: 10 Excellent Ways to Prevent Physical Therapist Burnout


✓  Providing Instruction

The ability to communicate treatment plans, reassure nervous patients and describe techniques is highly important for Physical Therapists.

Giving direction is one of the cornerstone skills of a physical therapist. The job includes a lot of coaching and inspiring, and the ability to clearly instruct patients is key.

Enhance your instructional skills by reading books or listening to podcasts by actual coaches. Whether sports-related, spiritual or professional, coaches know how to give direction and inspire and their techniques can help you.

Technology Skills | Physical Therapist Skills: What You Need to Succeed Now

Added Bonus: Technology Skills

In addition to the list above, the need for strong technical skills is on the rise.

With the introduction of healthcare apps, tablet-based patient tracking and new tech surfacing every day, the ability to adapt and utilize the newest technology are highly relevant.

Up until recent years, patients had to rely on written instructions they received as homework from their Physical Therapist after each session.

With smartphones, tablets, and laptops, all of that is history.

A home exercise program is a part of most treatment plans. Having the skills to create these plans using technology increases the ease with which patients can accomplish their treatment at home.

Embrace technology by exploring any number of apps on the market, specific to physical therapy. Share with your patients to facilitate an easier transition to home treatment.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Useful Physical Therapy Apps for Patients to Try

Career-Based Physical Therapist Skills

No matter where you are in your Physical Therapist career, there are ways for you to increase your chances for success.

In addition to the workplace skills already outlined, the following list includes techniques worth practicing on a regular basis to make the most of your career.

Invest in ongoing education | Physical Therapist Skills: What You Need to Succeed Now

✓  Invest in Ongoing Education

Make an effort to keep advancing your education. Certain yearly continuing education is a requirement for a PTs. Above and beyond those courses, however, is an opportunity to choose courses that inspire and motivate you.

Look for courses that will help you hone your physical therapist skills along with niche specialties. By constantly acquiring new knowledge you can fine-tune your specialty and work on the cases that interest you the most.

Most importantly, make sure that the time you spend on continuing education is manageable.

Overdoing it can lead to burnout.

The goal is to use these educational opportunities to stay motivated and engaged, not to overdo it.

SEE ALSO: 10 Excellent Ways to Prevent Physical Therapist Burnout

As you move forward in your career, you may consider obtaining a Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy (MPT) or even a Doctorate Degree (Doctor of Physical Therapy, DPT).

Those who are interested in obtaining a Master’s or Doctorate in Physical Therapy after having completed their initial PT education can return to school full time. The length of time it will take to acquire the next degree will depend on field experience.

To become a full-time student and seek either of these degrees, you must complete specific prerequisite undergraduate coursework. In most cases, you are already a licensed Physical Therapist and have verified experience in the field.

✓  Hone Your Interpersonal Skills

Science is only one part of being a physical therapist. Interpersonal skills are crucial to becoming (and staying) a competitive hire for a Physical Therapy practice.

Like many jobs, the physical therapy profession requires that you work well with co-workers in a variety of roles. In addition, you must also work very well with actual patients, adding to the value of practicing and executing strong social skills.

A list of ways to enhance interpersonal skills as outlined by explains that “there are several things you can do to strengthen your social skills and become a team player. These actions will not only help you make better connections at work, they’ll improve how others perceive you.”

Practice these three tips to stay sharp when it comes to communicating at work:

Have a positive outlook! Focus on showing off your upbeat attitude and a genuine smile. People are drawn to happiness.
Express genuine appreciation. If a co-worker or patient has done something you appreciate, let them know. Showing others how much you care about them and their kind actions encourage reciprocation.
Be aware of others’ situations. Listen to your co-workers and patients when they share personal information. Make an effort to congratulate them on achievements (birthdays, anniversaries) and provide compassion if the need arises. Small things like using first names and asking people for their opinions goes a long way.

People who work on developing strong interpersonal skills are usually more successful in both their professional and personal lives. Having the ability to show an employer the following things is immeasurable:

  • Working well with coworkers and future patients
  • Communicating effectively
  • Having a genuine respect for others

Be sure to keep your resume current with your skills in the event you choose to apply for more schooling or obtain new employment.

SEE ALSO: 6 Ways to Improve Your Physical Therapy Resume


✓  Stay Current on Field Issues and Research

Making a regular effort to stay current on physical therapy issues will go a long way for the growth of your career.

From newsworthy topics to medical research, the field is ever-changing and staying ahead of the curve is a skill that translates into multiple benefits.

Not only does this help you provide better care for your patients, it also makes you more valuable to your employer. They want to know that you have the knowledge to regularly bring fresh ideas to the table.

Always keep an eye on trending therapies, new treatments and industry news that you can share with your employer or coworkers. Post articles in your facility, or bring them up at a staff meeting.

Depending on your career goals, staying current offers you the opportunity to know which Physical Therapy specialties are growing and therefore compensated most attractively.

SEE ALSO: How to Get Hired for the Highest Paying Physical Therapy Jobs

Your goal may be to one day own your own practice.

With this skill comes the ability to become an opinion leader with influence. Get yourself there by practicing these skills paraphrased from an article by author and speaker Jennifer V. Miller:

  • “Maintain your internal and external networks. When you stay plugged into what’s going on with other professionals in your field, you learn about innovations and processes you may have overlooked. Devoting as little as one hour a week to connecting with others means you make nearly 50 contacts over the course of a year.
  • Look for inspiration in unusual places. Professionals who are in-the-know draw from unlikely sources to feed their minds. Go somewhere that is the complete opposite of your current life situation.
  • Learn how to use an RSS function like Google Reader. Subscribe to aggregator news services.”
If trending topics are of real interest to you, consider sharing your findings in a blog, on social media or both. As you will see, the time spent on these efforts will only further your credibility and industry knowledge.

Conclusion | Physical Therapist Skills: What You Need to Succeed Now


Physical therapist skills encompass a wide variety of abilities ranging from medical, interpersonal, physical and academic.

Let’s review our high-level checklist to help strengthen your knowledge needed to be a physical therapist:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Communication and listening
  • Giving health care instructions
  • Operating medical diagnostic equipment
  • Planning health care treatments
  • Treating a wide variety physical problems
  • Strength and coordination
  • Providing instruction
  • Technology skills
  • Ongoing education
  • Honing interpersonal skills
  • Staying current on field research


Are there any skills you rely on to do your best work as a Physical Therapist?

Share them with us in the comments below!


Explore Your Career Options



Choose Your Adventure
Nursing | Allied
Per Diem

Per Diem

Design Your Schedule
Flexibility | Consistency |


Advance Your Career
Opportunity | Support |