From Teacher to Physical Therapist

physical therapist performing stretching on patient

Ever wonder what it would be like to work in a healthcare setting with lots of one-on-one interactions? Today we will discuss transitioning your career from a teacher to a physical therapist.

Physical Therapy Quick Facts

Subjects/Areas of Interest: Science, Health, Human Services

Education Required: Doctoral Degree for Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) or Associates of Science Degree for Physical Therapist Assistant route 

Median Pay: $89,440 per year (US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Job Outlook: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of physical therapists is expected to increase much faster compared to other occupations at 22% growth from 2018-2028.

Work Environment: Stand-alone clinic, hospital, or patient’s home


A physical therapist (PT) evaluates a patient’s limitations in function due to disease, injury, or surgery and implements a treatment plan to return the patient to their prior or maximal level of function. For instance, a patient after knee surgery may have difficulty going up the stairs as they did before surgery. A PT would design an exercise program to strengthen the knee and perform techniques to improve the range of motion of the knee to help the patient be able to go up and down stairs normally.

Transferable Teaching to Physical Therapist Skills

Helping and Service

Physical Therapy is a helping or human service profession similar to teaching. As a PT, you will be spending the majority of your day serving your patients. Outside of treating patients you will spend time coordinating with other members of the medical community, family members, and other special services.

Working with People

PTs work with individuals of all backgrounds and ages with a wide range of injuries. If you love working with children and having summers off but want to work with children on a more one-on-one basis, a school-based pediatric physical therapist may be a good option for you!

Problem-solving and Creativity

PTs problem-solve every day to find unique solutions to a patient’s problems. For example, Like teachers with students, therapists may have to use their creativity or problem-solving skills to help certain patients become motivated to complete their PT sessions. PTs also use these skills to modify an exercise or the patient’s environment to fit the patient’s unique needs.

Giving homework

Home exercise programs are essential to improve a patient’s condition while they are not in therapy with you! Typically a therapist will print out a set of exercises for the patient to perform in-between sessions. The home exercise program must take into account the patient’s learning style (audio, visual, verbal, hands-on) to make sure the patient will understand and do their homework correctly. 


Lastly, educating patients is a huge part of facilitating recovery. PTs educate their patients on the specifics of their health condition, their projected outcomes, possible treatments, and general healthy lifestyle. Education must be simple, easy to follow, free of “medical jargon”, and tailored to the individual. There couldn’t be a more transferable teacher to physical therapist skill than education!

Former teacher is now working as pediatric physical therapist


The average starting salary depends on the type of physical therapy (more below) and your location in the US. On average, a physical therapist can expect a starting salary of around $65,000 that will grow with experience. Some clinics will offer bonuses for the number of patients seen in a quarter, but these clinic environments can be stressful and sometimes are not worth the bonus.

Education Required to Transition from Teacher to Physical Therapist

At a minimum, it will take you three to five years to fully transform your career from a teacher to a physical therapist. First, it will take one to two years beyond these three years to complete prerequisites including biology, chemistry, calculus, physics if you have not completed these courses while working towards your bachelor’s degree. After completing pre-resequites, you can apply to physical therapy school Physical therapy requires a doctoral degree, which is a three-year program. Future PTs apply to schools through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). More information on application requirements by school, class sizes, and program costs can be found on the PTCAS webpage.

It is difficult to get into PT schools, with most accepted applicants having a 3.5-grade point average (GPA) or higher. Some schools also require the GRE General Test, kind of like the SAT or ACT equivalent for graduate school. Other schools may require clinic observation hours, references, or an interview. As always, know the answer to the question “Why are you leaving teaching?”.

Beyond licensure and a DPT, additional coursework is not required but can allow you to get into a specialty. Specialty coursework includes women’s health, lymphedema, neurology, pediatrics, and cardiopulmonology. You can read more about specialties at the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties website.

Cost of Physical Therapy School

The average cost of tuition for a public physical therapy school is $75,000 for three years. A private university can cost as much as $150,000 for three years. This does not include the expense of any prerequisites needed, application fees, textbooks, and cost of living. Most students are not able to work during physical therapy school, especially during the last year which consists of full-time clinicals that are set up by the PT school. A PT must take a licensure test after completing the program also to become licensed in their state.

Physical Therapist Assistant

If 3+ more years of expensive schooling isn’t your thing or your GPA isn’t quite as high, you can always get an Associate’s of Science degree in Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). This will take you about 18-24 months to complete and also requires state licensing. A PTA will perform patient treatments under the supervision of a PT. A PTA cannot perform evaluations, which are the first visit where the PT learns about the patient’s condition and performs an examination. As a result, the starting salary for a PTA is lower than for a PT.

Who Hires PTs/Types of PT

There is a wide range of specialties a physical therapist can get into, including outpatient orthopedics, sports, inpatient rehab, skilled nursing, pediatrics, geriatrics, home health, and even travel PT. Outpatient facilities are stand-alone clinics that treat patients with joint problems such as back pain or elbow surgery or patients with neurological problems such as Parkinson’s disease. Patients live at an inpatient facility when they need more intense rehab for multiple hours a day such as after a stroke. PT students usually determine the type of physical therapy they want to do during clinicals. Clinical internships often lead to job interviews and offers.

Attributes for Career Satisfaction

Physical therapists spend most of their day communicating with other people. It is a job suited for individuals with outgoing or extroverted personalities. Physical therapy may not be a good fit for you if you are introverted or like spending the majority of your day working independently on projects.

Physical therapy requires a degree of physical fitness. No, you don’t need to be a bodybuilder or obsessed with fitness. In inpatient settings, a PT may be required to assist in transfers or moving a patient from one surface to another. In outpatient settings, a PT may perform joint mobilizations or stretching on heavier individuals. Both require a degree of fitness. PT may not be a good fit for you if you have a physical disability, chronic pain or health conditions, or if you prefer to sit for a majority of your workday.

It goes without saying that a physical therapist should be patient and compassionate. You may work with individuals with physical or mental disabilities that require additional assistance and empathy. If you are leaving teaching because you lose patience with your classroom easily, PT likely will not be a good fit for you.

physical therapist helping patients

Tailor your resume from Teaching to Physical Therapy

When applying to physical therapy schools, you will list your bachelor’s degree and prerequisite studies (if applicable) with your GPA before your teaching experience. To “beef up” a resume, many students volunteer at a clinic to help with cleaning, organizing, or filing. If you want more hands-on experience, you can become a physical therapy technician. These individuals work with a physical therapist performing tasks such as taking patients off heat or ice, cleaning clinic tables, and sometimes showing patients simple exercises. This is a valuable experience to put on a resume and a great summer or evening job! 

After finishing physical therapy school, at the top of your resume you will list your license and certification. By the time you are applying for a physical therapy job, you would have completed four or more clinical experiences. These will be the highlight of your resume. Teaching experience is valuable and can be listed beneath your clinical experiences. School attended for physical therapy, prerequisites, and a bachelor’s degree can also be listed beneath these sections. In-person coursework, such as an advanced course on treating shoulder injuries, and research are also listed. Typical resumes are 2 pages long.

Potential Cons of Quitting Teaching to Become a Physical Therapist

Unfortunately, the road to change careers from a teacher to a physical therapist is time-consuming and expensive. PT school is required and you will likely need to take out student loans. Most physical therapists recommend attending the least expensive public school available to you, as the school you attend typically does not aid your ability to obtain a higher paying or more desirable job.

As teachers have standardized testing standards, PTs have productivity standards. Productivity is the percentage of time is spent treating patients in the workday. This standard varies from place to place and is emphasized in some settings or companies more than others. It is important to ask during an interview what the standard is. For instance, my current job is 70%, which means I should be spending 70% of my job treating patients. 70% is a reasonable standard and accounts for special circumstances and patient cancellations. 

Similar Careers

Occupational Therapists focus on restoring patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, and feeding. In an orthopedic setting occupational therapists typically specialize in hand therapy. There is also an Occupational Therapy Assistant job option, and these individuals are typically employed at skilled nursing facilities. 

Speech Therapists focus on speech, feeding, and swallowing disorders. These conditions may be congenital, such as a child who stutters or acquired such as an adult with word-finding difficulties after a stroke. Speech therapy is another great option if you hope to work with children in a one-on-one setting. Both occupational and speech therapy requires a master’s degree. 

Helpful Links

American Physical Therapy Association- Professional organization for PTs

PTCAS- Central application service for physical therapy schools

GRE- General test required to require to graduate schools

American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties– More information about specialties in physical therapy


Any questions on changing careera from teaching to physical therapy? Leave a comment below!

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