One of the many reasons why physical therapy makes such a great career is the fact that there are almost limitless settings in which we can practice. Depending on our strengths, interests, and phases of life, we might choose to work in one setting for many years, then try something entirely new. Or, we might want to opt for a flexible role from the get-go, where every day is different. The beauty of PT is that we can literally do anything; all we have to do is shift gears and put on our learning caps!
Acute care physical therapists enjoy controlled chaos. Highly collaborative, they thrive on working in multi-disciplinary teams, alongside nurses, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physicians. Acute care physical therapists are adept at thinking on their feet and enjoy working with patients presenting with a variety of diagnoses.
Pros of the practice setting include wearing scrubs to work, helping patients take their first steps after disease or injury, a flexible work schedule, and the ability to leave work at the hospital when they leave each night.
Cons of acute care include an erratic schedule, exposure to many cooties, bodily fluids, productivity demands, and working with patients who don't always appreciate your help.
Bottom line: Pursue this setting if you love working in teams, enjoy helping patients in a fast-paced environment, and aren't afraid of a little pee and poop on your scrubs.
Kind-hearted, caring, and patient, SNF rehab physical therapists truly make a difference in patients' lives. These therapists and see a wide variety of diagnoses, from Parkinson's disease, to ALS, to spinal cord injuries, and traumatic brain injuries. SNF rehab PTs enjoy working alongside many disciplines, an excellent salary, and superior job stability.
Pros of the setting include truly getting to know patients on a deep level, wearing scrubs to work, excellent salary and job stability, and plenty of learning opportunities.
Cons of SNF rehab include saying goodbye to patients when they pass away, physically demanding tasks, bodily fluids, working with patients who can be very sad or depressed, and dealing with productivity and billing demands.
Bottom line: Pursue this setting if you want to truly impact your patients' lives, hear some epic war stories, and make a good living all the while.
Hospital based outpatient PTs have the best of many worlds! They have the stability and benefits of a bigger company, while still enjoying the learning opportunities and hands-on aspects of outpatient clinics. These PTs tend to be in it to win it, and many stay in their jobs for many years. What often makes that decision is whether these therapists can pursue their niche/specialty of choice or not.
Pros of the setting include stability, getting to know patients over time, in-services that are usually paid for (!), limited need to market yourself outside the clinic, excellent benefits, paid education/specialization opportunities, and (sometimes) opportunities to float into acute/rehab.
Cons of the setting include little control over marketing, no music or lame music is very possible, there can be some pressure to follow the clinic's "treatment philosophy", and bureaucratic limitations might mean you won't have the opportunity to specialize in an area you actually want to pursue.
Bottom line: pursue this setting if you want a comfortable career in outpatient physical therapy, a reasonable schedule, great benefits, and stability to boot.
Private outpatient physical therapists are energetic, critical thinkers who enjoy multi-tasking. These clinics have many different cultures and vibes, including calming and chill "wellness" clinics, sports clinics, outpatient neuro, pelvic floor clinics, mixed caseload clinics, and more! Want to make your own niche in a clinic? Consider joining a private outpatient team!
Pros of working in private outpatient include working with a (usually) motivated patient population, opportunities to market oneself to the community at races and events, an upbeat work environment, great music at work, opportunities to specialize and create one's own niche at work, and home baked treats from patients.
Cons of this setting include patients who aren't always willing to rest when they need it, a high stress and fast paced environment, lots of documentation (depending on the system), often poor work-life balance/unpaid documentation, and when the schedule gets lean, you might get "flexed off" unpaid.
Bottom line: Pursue this setting if you're an ambitious, energetic, "live to work" type, and are eager specialize and market yourself. Want to pursue vestibular? Pelvic floor? Aquatics? Work with adults and children alike? Definitely consider the private outpatient route.
Acute inpatient rehab physical therapists are, in many ways, the original physical therapists. They work in units where patients stay for a few weeks at a time, helping people learn to be as functionally mobile as possible. This work is highly rewarding and physically demanding, and clinicians have the opportunity to form strong bonds with patients in a short period of time.
Pros of this setting include rewarding work, (generally) motivated patients, the opportunity to see and treat a number of unique diagnoses, interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork, and consistent hours.
Cons of this setting include physically taxing work, working with patients who can be very sad or depressed, a demanding schedule to meet billing demands, and a high burnout rate.
Bottom line: Pursue this setting if you are strong and healthy, and enjoy working with a population who will benefit directly from your therapy every single day.
Ever heard of adult day care? Neither had we until we had been PTs for a few years already! Adult day care facilities allow patients' family members to drop them off for care, therapy, and entertainment while the caregiver is out running errands or working. Physical therapists at adult day care centers enjoy the opportunity to work with all sorts of personality types, without taxing their own bodies too much.
Pros of adult day care include flexible hours, a mellow work environment, working with an often underserved population, and minimal paperwork demands.
Cons of adult day care include the possibility of your manual therapy skills going unused, (sometimes) unmotivated patients, lower pay, and the fact that you usually need a second job to make 40 hours per week.
Bottom line: Pursue this setting if you are a "work to live type", and you wish to pursue other career, hobby, or family interests outside of your workplace.
Variety is the spice of life, and travel/registry physical therapists like their work to be flavorful! Travel physical therapists work for 8-12 weeks at a time, then move on to another location in the US. Registry physical therapists work for a day, week, or month at clinic, then move on to a new one. Registry therapists operate on a local level, while travel PTs operate on a state or national level.
Pros include constant variety and change; you will never get bored. There is a continual opportunity to learn from other clinicians, learn new EMRs, meet new people, and see new clinics (or even states)!
Cons include a hectic, stressful lifestyle with constant changes. You will constantly get comfortable in one spot, then need to move on. Some new grads find this setting too fast-paced for their taste, while others see it as an opportunity to learn.
Bottom line: Choose to be a travel or registry therapist if you crave constant change and love meeting new people, all while you make an excellent living.
Home health physical therapists enjoy flexibility, high pay, and the opportunity to treat patients in their homes at a relaxed pace. These therapists help patients function at their best, helping to order and fit equipment and recommend safety features to prevent falls. HHPTs spend much of their days driving around and completing documentation, but the PTs who love it REALLY love it.
Pros of this setting include truly helping patients function in their homes, flexibility in schedule/day, no workplace politics and high pay.
Cons of this setting include high wear and tear on your car, spending a lot of time alone in your car, no camaraderie from coworkers, and insanely long documentation requirements.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you want to make an excellent living, value privacy, and enjoy getting to know others in their own homes.
Occupational health/functional capacity evaluator (FCE) physical therapists have varied roles. They can work with companies to do employment pre-screens, or they can work with injured workers to implement "work hardening" programs to prepare workers to return to the job. This setting is generally less taxing on one's body than other practice settings.
Pros of this setting include a good job outlook (more and more companies are using these services), low physical demand on the body, motivated patients (usually), and a unique job description.
Cons of this setting include its repetitive (possibly boring) nature, meaning that your skills might grow stale. Not all environments offer this type of work, either.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you're a creature of habit who enjoys a calm, predictable workday with little chance for your own workplace injury.
Long term acute care (LTAC) physical therapists have the best of both the acute care and SNF worlds. Patients who go to LTACs need acute (hospital level) medical care, but often need SNF rehab level physical mobility (or even higher!) PTs who work in LTACs often work in teams with OTs, as the patients are often attached to many lines and wires. Bodily fluids and germs are a reality, as well.
Pros include plenty of camaraderie with other therapists, gratification when patients graduate to another level of care, opportunity to learn from other clinicians and flex your creative treatment muscles, and the opportunity to work with patients whom will truly benefit from your care.
Cons include physically demanding work, sometimes a depressing environment, lots of germs, and bodily fluid.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you want a gratifying position where you work closely with other rehab professionals to improve the lives of gravely ill patients.
Pediatric physical therapists aren't kidding around! These PTs spend their days enjoying the company of children who have physical (and sometimes mental) impairments. While the paperwork and overbearing parents can sometimes be a drag, pediatric physical therapists enjoy the feeling that work is simply "playtime."
Pros of this setting include an upbeat, childlike environment, getting to play with kids all day, early intervention opportunities to help patients before problems become chronic, plenty of specialization and learning opportunities, rarely do you have to work on weekends.
Cons of this setting include being around kids all day (lol), can be physically demanding, parents can be overbearing, paperwork can be frustrating, and pay isn't always at the top of the scale.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you love children and are able to set boundaries with pushy parents.
Cash pay/wellness physical therapists opt out of the headache of insurance bureaucracy and paperwork. Instead, they accept cash only. These physical therapists are becoming more and more prevalent with the changing healthcare landscape, and many have become quite successful. In fact, many would argue that this is the future of physical therapy, as reimbursement declines and cost of education increases.
Pros include limitless opportunity to pursue specializations and niche markets, excellent pay (when done right), flexibility of schedule, tons of opportunity to learn, and ALMOST NO paperwork!
Cons include no benefits/PTO, etc, all your learning will be funded by you, and the need to continually be aggressive with your marketing to ensure your audience understands your value.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you're confident in your abilities to market yourself, as you'll spend much of your day determining where your next meal, I mean patient, will come from!
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