According to Forbes, physical therapist is one of the top ten toughest jobs to fill in 2016. Additionally, this Monster article states that physical therapy industry “jobs are projected to grow at 36 percent through the year 2022, significantly above the national average.” And thanks to direct access, physical therapists have more opportunities than ever. This is all great news for DPT students who graduate this year, but it also might be a bit overwhelming. With so much opportunity, how do you determine your best career fit?

I like to think of a career as a tree. In this case, your love of helping people roots you in the PT industry, your DPT degree is the trunk that builds the foundation of your career, and the branches and leaves are your opportunities to grow. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can stretch those branches:

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Grow Up

You love working with patients, but at some point in your career, you may wish to take on more responsibility at your clinic—or even start your own. Here are a few management opportunities available to you as a PT:


A great clinic manager is ready to lead, has an entrepreneurial spirit, and often has a few years of experience treating patients. Clinic managers still treat patients, but also supervise, train, and hire staff; oversee day-to-day operations and clinical activities; and ensure clinic compliance. Some of the most important PT clinic managerial skills include communication, budgeting, and resource allocation.


Like a clinic manager, the clinic director handles all of the above—and then some. Additional responsibilities include HR, operational, and financial duties. A director typically works at a larger clinic and thus, may work less directly with patients. Those in director positions typically have several years of practice and supervisory experience.


You want to be your own boss? Awesome. Private practice PT may be the right option for you. But starting and owning your own clinic is a big job. Luckily, we’ve put together the Physical Therapist's Guide to Starting an Outpatient Clinic to help you get going. For a more personal perspective on this topic, check out this story on Kaci Monroe’s experience starting her own clinic in Montana.

Branch Out

Physical therapy is a business, but not everyone wants to go into private practice. Don’t worry; there’s a wide variety of settings in which to practice (or teach) physical therapy, including the following (adapted from the lists found here and here):

  • Large medical systems and hospitals with acute-care and specialty clinics (like Michael Brickens, PT)
  • Inpatient and subacute rehabilitation centers
  • Nursing care, skilled nursing, and long-term care facilities
  • Assisted living and adult day care
  • Community hospitals and clinics
  • Ambulatory care/outpatient physical therapy offices
  • Schools/preschools/universities
  • Corporations (typically as part of a health and wellness program)
  • Research centers
  • Occupational medicine
  • Home health care
  • Sports medicine clinics and fitness facilities (like Stephania Bell’s job in fantasy football)
  • Sports teams/athletes (like working with tennis pros or touring with Cirque du Soleil)
  • Armed services (like LT Heidi Fisher, PT, USPHS)
  • Veterinary clinics (like these folks)

To practice in some of these settings, you may need to get certified as a specialist. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties currently offers these certification options:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics (check out Marc Suznovich’s story here)
  • Neurology
  • Orthopaedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports Physical Therapy
  • Women's Health

Whether you’re a DPT student or a current therapist who’s considering your options, let this list be a guide, but just that: a guide. It’s your tree—er, career—and you can choose any shape, size, or variety, from a weeping willow to a Douglas fir. Don’t want to own a clinic or supervise people? Talk to your manager about other leadership opportunities. Not interested in any of these specialties? Create your own. Are you a certified specialist or a clinic owner, director, or manager? Leaf your advice to others in the comment section below.

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