A physical therapist is a health care professional who helps patients with managing and improving their pain and lack of mobility within their joints and limbs. Unlike other medical professionals, a major goal of a physical therapist is to offer alternatives to expensive surgery that will allow the patient to have an improved quality of life.
Understanding a patient's medical background is imperative to a physical therapist's ability to properly diagnose and assist their patient. It is not uncommon for a physical therapist to study the medical history and doctor's notes from a patient's previous physician or surgeon in order to ascertain the best method of care.
After studying the patient's previous medical history, a physical therapist will usually have a conversation with the patient in order to understand what the patient feels is the cause of their physical problems. This input, coupled with the research the physical therapist previously conducted, will help develop a plan of care for the patient that will maximize the physical therapist's ability to improve the patient's condition.
Often, the plan put in place by the physical therapist will include many exercises that will aim to increase the patient's mobility. The patient's progress will be evaluated over time with additional exercises being included in the routine as the patient continues to improve.
According to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 198,600 Physical Therapists employed in the United States in 2010 with 39% growth in employment projected by the year 2020.
Unlike most other medical professions, a physical therapist does not need a medical degree from a traditional medical school in order to practice in their field. Instead, an aspiring physical therapist needs a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.
According to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, there are currently over 200 educational programs for candidates that offer a DPT degree.
A DPT program usually lasts three years and is sought by a candidate after completing their undergraduate education and obtains a bachelor's degree. While studying at the undergraduate level, candidates should focus on subjects focusing on anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, and physics.
DPT programs usually include classes in biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and pharmacology.
During a candidate's Doctor of Physical Therapy education, they will be required to complete clinical work, usually in the realm of 30 weeks, where a heavy focus is places on orthopedic care.
All states require physical therapists to be licensed but the licensing laws vary state to state. However, all states require that a physical therapist candidate pass the National Physical Therapy Examination which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
Therefore, the path to becoming a physical therapist is the following:
- 4 years of undergraduate work en route to a bachelor's degree
- 3 years of Doctor of Physical Therapy education (DPT)
- 30 weeks of clinical work during DPT education
- Successfully complete certification exams
Where Physical Therapists Work
Physical Therapists may work in a variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, private offices, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities.
Typically, physical therapists work standard 40-hour weeks but those hours may extend into the evenings and weekends depending on their specific work environment. For example, if a physical therapist works at a hospital, it is possible they will work longer/different hours than a physical therapist who works in an office setting.
On average, physical therapists earn $82,390 annually with a range of $56,800 to $116,090.
How They Help People
Physical therapists help patients by employing practices that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent permanent physical disabilities. After a physical therapist gets a read on what is bothering a patient, they will determine a patient diagnosis, prognosis, and plan of care.
Physical Therapists and Medical Malpractice
While a physical therapist is not a medical doctor (MD), they are still considered to be a medical professional and as such, medical malpractice rules apply to lawsuits for physical therapy negligence. Medical malpractice rules apply when the case is based on an injury caused by a health care provider who was in the course of providing health care.
To be successful in a malpractice case against a physical therapist, the plaintiff will need to prove the following:
- The physical therapist did not provide an appropriate amount of care that a similarly trained and experienced local physical therapist would have provided under the same circumstances.
- The plaintiff was injured by the physical therapist and the injury occurred because of the physical therapist's actions.
Examples of possible negligence on the part of a physical therapist may include:
- Rushing through exercises
- Failure to notice signs of pain
- Leaving the patient unsupervised
- Overextension of limbs
- Failure to inform the patient of risks
- Failure to properly teach a patient how to use equipment
If a physical therapist has committed any of the aforementioned errors, the patient may be entitled to sue for damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, lost wages, and disability.
Experienced Maryland Medical Malpractice Attorneys
If you or a loved one has suffered a negligent injury from a physical therapist, call the attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian today at (800) 529-6162.
You have the right to expect medical professionals to operate within the required standard of care. If you suspect that your physical therapist acted negligently, you need an experienced medical malpractice attorney.