Market for Physical Therapists to Increase by 21%

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Most people’s familiarity with physical therapy involves a healthcare professional helping in the recovery after a sports injury or accident. However, physical therapists work in a large variety of settings and to address numerous health issues.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the physical therapist occupation will grow by 21% between 2020 and 2030, compared with 8% for all occupations. The annual mean wage for Buffalo-area physical therapists is $77,590.

The annual mean wage for Buffalo-area physical therapists is $77,590.

Entry to the field must have earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, pass the National Physical Therapy licensing exam, administered at the state level, and obtain a license.

Therapists who move to another state must go through the credentialing process in that state.

Every three years, a physical therapist must renew the license and take 36 units of continuing education credits.

In addition to the education, astute skills in science and math are important, according to
Andrew Willis, physical therapist at Advanced Care Physical Therapy in Niagara Falls.

“You also have to be good with people,” Willis said. “You’re always dealing with patients who are in pain to some extent. Because of that, you’re seeing them two to three times per week. You could be their main source of interaction while they’re recovering. With other doctors, it’s less often than once a month.”

He also thinks that physical therapists should be a natural at problem solving as they have to figure out ways to help patients to continue their recovery at home where they may not have access to all the resources they need.

Will Tso, physical therapist at SportsFocus Physical Therapy in Buffalo, enjoyed sports while growing up. But, since just a tiny percent of youth athletes make it a profession, Tso felt that working as a physical therapist would allow him to remain connected with sports in a meaningful way.

“I meet a lot of people involved in sports and I stay active,” Tso said.

He sees about 10 to 20 patients a day for up to 30 minutes each.

“We try to see the source of their trouble and prescribe movements that will help with that,” Tso said. “We have the patients work on the exercises at home and they come back with more feedback.”

Remaining open to learning and feedback has helped him find success as a physical therapist. He realized this early on, as “nothing presents like it was described in the books,” Tso said. “When I first walked through the door, I was shocked and how different things were. You have to be open to learning how different things are in real life.”

In addition to outpatient clinics like SportsFocus Physical Therapy, physical therapists can also work at hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, schools, early intervention centers, burn units and home care.

Andrew Willis is a physical therapist at Advanced Care Physical Therapy in Niagara Falls.
Andrew Willis is a physical therapist at Advanced Care Physical Therapy in Niagara Falls.

Greg Ford, a doctor of physical therapy and the head of the physical therapy department at Daemen College, said that physical therapists have many options for career development.

“It has moved to a medical model whereby there are residency and fellowship programs for physical therapy grads,” Ford said. “These are not required. You could graduate from an entry level program and go right into practice. You could work side by side with an expert in the field. That field could be so many different things: orthopedics, neurology, cardiopulmonary. These advanced, board-certified specialists can springboard your career beyond the entry level.”

Physical therapists can advance to leading as a senior physical therapist with more administrative responsibilities, director of a physical therapy clinic, hospital physical therapy department or college department.

“You can go anywhere,” Ford said. “Travel physical therapy is popular for our new graduates. You can sign up with a travel company and do a three-month contract and be licensed in a state and travel the country if you choose. You could do four states a year until you choose to settle down.”

The physical therapy program at Daemen is one of 271 nationwide. It boasts a 100% employment rate within one year’s time for graduates. Ford believes that the demand for physical therapists will remain strong.

“The aging population isn’t like it once was,” he said. “It’s more of an active aging population than it ever was. They want to do hobbies and sports; that’s where physical therapists come in.”
Since the healthcare industry is moving toward a more wellness and prevention-oriented model, the role of physical therapists may expand in the future to include more injury prevention and exercise guidance. Insurance coverage will likely be the driving factor behind this trend.

“We have a course in our curriculum specific to health, wellness and prevention,” Ford said. “Insurance companies haven’t caught up with that yet. But as a profession, we think we can ward off the pathology or comorbidity for quality of health including diabetes, obesity and arthritic changes in joints. We often talk about it as ‘pre-hab’ in advance of when it comes.”

By their definition, physical therapists are movement and exercise specialists, treating the body holistically to keep the body’s systems functional to improve quality of life across the lifespan.

The variety and human connections made through providing physical therapy makes the career worthwhile to Andrew Perilli, physical therapist and owner of Advantage Physical Therapy in Lockport.

“I really enjoy it because I can run a business and treat patients how I want to,” Perilli said. “I can be profitable and help as many people as I want to in the right way.”

He encourages anyone interested in physical therapy to consider the earning potential of operating a practice versus working as a staffer, but also the aspects of business operation that they will need to know and do.

“There’s a lot of work, but you’re working for yourself,” Perilli said. “There’s a lot of earning potential over a staff physical therapist.

“School doesn’t prepare you for owning a business in any way, shape or form. Do your own research. I did some training with an outside agency that trains private practice owners.”

He added that resources from the Small Business Administration of Niagara County helped him both develop the business and obtain a loan for the business.

“I took out an SBA loan. The SBA of Niagara County provided me with free resources as far as making a biz plan and drafting a bank loan proposal, marketing,” he said.