At NGPT, we write a lot about working as a physical therapist, but one of the most important jobs can be the one you hold before even entering PT school. There are many paths, but some are more beneficial than others. Most schools require applicants to spend several hours in various physical therapy settings before entering school. Requirements can range from 50 to several hundred hours and sometimes need to be spread across multiple settings.
To fulfill the requirements, it is best to start early. As an applicant, you are likely in school or already working, and may not have more than a few hours per week to spend shadowing. However, even a few hours a week can quickly add up over time. As part of my experience, I spent 50 hours in the subacute unit of a hospital by coming in for just 3 hours at a time, twice a week for two months.
However, to really rack up hours, it is best to get a job in a physical therapy setting. I clocked over 1,000 hours while getting paid to be a physical therapy aide at a private practice.
Not only did I crush the pre-requisite, but I also gained invaluable insight into the field and found a mentor in the clinic’s owner.
As an aide, I got used to the customer service aspect of physical therapy: interacting with a wide variety of patients and making conversation. It also gave me a greater appreciation of all the hard work done by the aides with whom I currently work.
If you’re looking to shadow, it is a good idea to call up local clinics and hospitals. Many already have established programs for applicants looking to gain hours. To become an aide, it is best to check online job listings at sites such as Craigslist or Indeed. Becoming an aide usually means getting paid, which makes getting hundreds of hours more feasible than volunteering.
As an applicant, try to establish a relationship with the therapist with whom you're working. Most applications require a recommendation from a physical therapist and working for one can be a great way to get one. At the very least, keep reliable contact information for the therapist, since you will need him or her to verify online the hours you have spent for your application.
Lastly, make sure to diversify your experiences by spending time in at least two different settings, such as private practices, hospitals, nursing homes and schools. As a physical therapist, you will be trained to work in almost any setting and you will be expected to intern in multiple settings. Stronger applicants will have a variety of experiences to draw upon so they realize how diverse a career PT can be.