If you have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a Physical Therapist is like, this article will answer that question!
Physical therapists have a wide range of responsibilities and their days are packed with ever-changing scenarios.
With patients ranging in age and ability, people who choose a physical therapy career enjoy working with every type of medical situation.
Before we break down the common PT workday (well, as common as you can get when patients change so regularly), let’s review exactly what Physical Therapists do in their profession.
According to The American Physical Therapy Association, “Physical therapists (PTs) are highly-educated, licensed health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility – in many cases without expensive surgery and often reducing the need for long-term use of prescription medications and their side effects.”
Because PTs have such a ranging skill set, they can work in a number of locations providing seemingly endless medical interventions for their patients. These locations can include:
- Private practices
- In patient’s homes
- Outpatient clinics or offices
- Inpatient rehabilitation facilities
- Schools or Education and research centers
- Skilled nursing or extended care facilities
- Fitness centers and/or sports training facilities
- Industrial, workplace, or other occupational environments
If you are asking yourself, “What does a physical therapist do?”, here are just some of the ways Physical Therapists work with patients:
- They teach patients how to prevent and/or manage a physical condition to achieve long-term health benefits.
- They examine each patient and then develop a treatment plan.
- They use scientifically proven techniques to promote mobility and restore function while reducing pain and preventing long-term disability.
- They work with athletes as a preventative measure to prevent injury and loss of mobility before it occurs.
Physical therapy practitioners take a full-body approach to well-being. They understand the entire body’s mechanics and create treatment plans tailored to each individual patient’s needs.
It is also exciting to note that the physical therapy profession is in very high demand. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapists rank eighth on the list of fastest-growing occupations!0
That means there is plenty of work to be had for PTs throughout the country, and the demand will only continue to grow.
Now that we’ve covered a number of fun facts about Physical Therapists, let’s take a look at what a typical day might look like.
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A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist
As mentioned, the daily life of a physical therapist is ever-changing! Because of the unique patient load, no two days are ever truly the same.
It is also important that we point out every PT job itself is different. Those who work in a fitness center will have very different days than those in a hospital, for example.
That said, there are a few things that every Physical Therapist has in common day in and day out.
First and foremost, they are well educated, passionate providers who care about each individual patient’s long-term success. That means every day is spent creating and executing individual treatment plans designed specifically for each patient’s needs.
Secondly, they are incredibly detailed medical professionals. All PTs use SOAP Notes or some form of specific note-taking method to keep very close tabs on every single patient. This is important not only to track progress but also to have relevant and clear information to share with the patient’s medical team when necessary.
Aside from those two things, every PT will be different and therefore every day will be different. Next, we will break down what a “typical” day might look like for a Physical Therapist who works in a medical setting (such as an office, inpatient/outpatient clinic, and so on).
Morning Schedule for a PT
The first step in every Physical Therapist’s day is often the same. Before the first patient arrives, the focus is on preparation for the day.
Since many PTs begin seeing patients at 8:00 AM, the PT is often the first person to arrive at the office, anywhere from 7:00 – 7:30 AM.
Depending on the patient list for the day, there are a number of things a PT will do to prepare:
- Ensure the therapy area is clean.
- Review the day’s patient list and corresponding patient treatment plans.
- Gather all necessary therapy tools, paperwork, and activities for those patients.
- Block out a treatment schedule based on patient plans.
- Review and/or prepare instructions based on notes from the previous session.
There are instances in which PTs do some of this effort at the end of the day so the mornings are less busy. For example, reviewing the patient load and corresponding notes can certainly be done the day before.
When the first patient arrives, it’s time to truly start the day!
8:00 AM – 12:00 PM: Meeting with Patients
Any returning patient will “pick up where they left off” in terms of their treatment plan. This can include a number of things, such as:
- Hands-on work such as soft-tissue work, stretching and more
- Teaching the patient new exercises to do during therapy and at home
- Going over pain relief techniques (if necessary)
Appointments commonly last one hour and will almost always include some kind of hands-on treatment mixed with exercise and communicating an at-home plan to work on before their next visit. PTs typically see 3 patients in the morning unless they prefer a later lunch.
As it happens with many medical professionals, lunch might not fit perfectly into the schedule. Late patients and other delays can cause your schedule to shift throughout the day. Even when you’re working in a hospital setting, your appointments should allow for a lunch break. Overall, flexibility is key!
Afternoon Schedule for a PT
1:00 – 4:00 PM: Meeting with Patients
It is very possible that a Physical Therapist will meet a new patient on any given day. When that happens, things are a bit more structured. We break down new patient onboarding below:
Step One: The PT will start by taking the patient’s history. A nurse or a chart from their Physician can also provide details, but the therapist will sit with a new patient for a while gathering history in order to learn more.
Step Two: The PT will examine the injury or area that will be treated. After examining the area, they will continue to seek out important details as they relate to the patient’s injury.
These details play an important role later on. A PT needs as much information as possible in order to design the most comprehensive treatment plan for each individual patient.
Step Three: The PT will build a patient chart to include all they have learned, as well as any other information provided by the patient’s Physician, family/caregiver, and other medical professionals currently treating the patient.
Step Four: Now it’s time to create goals. Every new patient requires short- and long-term goals so the success of treatment can be measured.
This is an important step. While it may seem small, setting goals actually plays a large role in the overall success of any patient. That is because only the patient really knows what will motivate them to work on getting well.
Step Five: Once goals are established, a treatment plan is developed. The plan includes things like the types of treatments the PT will be providing, the frequency of visits, potential at-home exercises and more.
Of course, your afternoon might also include seeing more returning patients (just as your morning may include a new patient or two). While the types of patients are always changing, your typical day between 8 AM and 4 PM will be spent working with patients.
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Patient Review
It is possible that you will continue to see patients past 4 PM, but many offices leave time at the end of a PT’s day for review.
This time is specifically used to notate the progress of each patient seen that day. While a PT will likely jot down a few things during the appointment, the end of the day is when notes are fleshed out and finalized.
Of course, if you choose to take a job in a hospital or hospice setting, or work as an in-home PT, your daily work life will not line up with the one we outlined above. The treating and onboarding patient elements remain the same, but the scheduling will vary significantly.
If you are considering the Physical Therapy profession, we hope this article about a day in the life of a Physical Therapist helps! Having a deeper understanding of the day-to-day effort will help you make this important career decision.
When considering things, here’s what really stands out:
- PTs are highly detailed and very passionate about full-body wellness.
- While certain settings provide some structure, flexibility is a must for every PT.
- Mornings always start with preparation for the day’s incoming patients.
- Days end with writing detailed notes and possibly preparing for the next day’s patients.
What would be your favorite part of a day in the life of a Physical Therapist?
Share with us in the comments below!