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What is a physical therapist?

Physical therapists are specialists in evaluating and treating disorders of the human body primarily by physical means. Whether the condition results from injury, disease or other causes, they focus primarily on those individuals who have disturbed function or impairment related to the musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiopulmonary, and integumentary (skin) systems. PTs evaluate the functioning of these systems and apply the appropriate treatment to alleviate pain and improve physical function. These services are in great need by people of all ages and backgrounds.

female physical therapist works with man on strength training

The field requires good communication and problem-solving skills, and the ability to perform rigorous physical activity. Physical Therapists enjoy working with people and outside a traditional office environment. PTs work in a variety of settings, from hospitals to athletic facilities to nursing homes, schools and clinics.

The degree required to become a practicing physical therapist in the U.S. today is the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). All states and territories in the United States also require a license to practice physical therapy. Each state requires the National Board Examination (NPTE) but each state may have additional criteria for obtaining licensure.

As the first program established west of the Mississippi, the University of Kansas has long been a pioneer in Physical Therapy education. From consistently high rankings by national publications to recognition as a leader in research in rehabilitation science, KU has a record of demonstrated excellence in this exciting, dynamic health care field.

Learn more about careers in physical therapy in this video from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA):

female physical therapy student works on the knee of a patient

Physical Therapy is a career growing in demand

Learn about the profession and employment opportunities in the Occupational Outlook Handbook (U.S. Dept of Labor)

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Last modified: Jul 12, 2020