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A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist

Apr 08, 2010

Those who are considering a career as a physical therapist may be interested to know that as a physical therapist they will likely only see about 5 to 10 patients per day. This is because the time it takes to meet with a patient and work through their therapy may take up to an hour, plus any paperwork that needs to be completed. Some physical therapists who work with those who have serious injuries – such as spinal injuries – may only work with one or two patients per day.

When you first meet with a patient you may have to go over notes from a referring physician or other medical professionals. You will then talk to the patient to find out what limitations they have due to their disability or injury, any pain issues, and what type of mobility they would like to achieve. You then draft a plan to achieve these goals and start working towards it.

You will help patients work through the exercises you have given them, and instruct them on what they should do between visits. There may be movements they should avoid, or specific types of exercises they need to practice on their own. At the end of the session the patient is told when to reschedule – it may be in a few days or a few weeks, depending on their injury and progress. Then you move on to the next patient.

For patients you have seen before, you will review their “homework” and ask them about their progress while you re-evaluate. You may need to remind them how to exercise properly, or you may have to make changes based on how they feel. Through it all you need to remain upbeat and positive, as the patient depends on you for support and encouragement.

Some patients may be in too much pain or discomfort to move around much, in which case you will do soft tissue work. This is basically massage technique, but specifically designed to address underlying structural issues. You may need to help stretch muscles, release knots, or generally loosen up the patient so they can move around with little or no pain.

Many of the tasks you perform can be assigned to a Physical Therapy Technician, who will work with you to help the patient. This can help you step back and review the patient’s file, catch up on paperwork, or just give yourself a break, as long as the PTT understands the task they are to perform. Depending on your schedule, you may break for lunch or you may have to work through it if some of your patients take too long.

Depending on your role in the clinic, you may have some administrative tasks to perform throughout the day, such as billing and invoices or ordering supplies. You will have to fit this in between patients or at the end of the day. As is typical for those who work in the health care industry you will likely work long hours, but it is usually worth it.

By the end of the day you have helped many people feel better. Some people may be in need of pain relief, and you will help them with your skills as a therapist. Others may just be getting back some function that was lost due to an accident or surgery, while still others may be receiving your help to get over an injury. Your skills and expertise are greatly needed and much appreciated, which is why being a physical therapist is such a rewarding career.

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