Alternative Careers for Physical Therapists

Alternative Careers for Physical Therapists

February 19, 2024

Demand for physical therapists (PT) is rising—and so are career opportunities for them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for PTs is projected at 15% from 2022–2032. PTs can practice in a variety of traditional and non-traditional settings in both permanent and temporary roles. If you are considering a career or a career change in physical therapy, read on to discover the wide variety of career options available to those in the physical therapy field.

Career options for physical therapists

Acute care

PTs focusing on acute care are found in specialized areas in hospitals. For example, some acute therapists work with patients with cardiac conditions, while others work in the oncology or cancer unit. Others work solely in the intensive care unit (ICU). An acute care physical therapist ensures that patients can function normally when ready to leave the hospital. In short, acute care PTs work with individuals in a hospital setting to achieve a safe discharge.

School settings

Students on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) are often eligible for physical therapy. The goal is often to help improve balance while sitting in class, walking between classrooms or to the bus, and navigating playground equipment. This specialized therapy addresses these students' specific challenges, mainly focusing on improving their balance in various settings. By tailoring interventions to the specific requirements outlined in the IEP, physical therapy becomes a vital component in fostering a supportive and inclusive educational environment. It addresses immediate physical challenges and contributes to students' holistic development, promoting independence and resilience in their daily lives.

Home health

PTs who provide care in the home can work with a range of patients—from senior citizens who need rehab after a fall to pediatric patients with developmental disabilities and other medical conditions. The flexibility and efficiency of in-home physical therapy extends beyond age demographics, encompassing various medical conditions. From orthopedic issues to neurological disorders, PTs adapt their expertise to each patient's specific needs, creating tailored treatment plans that align with the goals outlined in the patient's care plan.

Among the recipients of in-home physical therapy are senior citizens recovering from the aftermath of a fall. In these instances, PTs employ targeted rehabilitation strategies to restore mobility, strength, and confidence, enabling the elderly to regain their independence and quality of life within the familiar surroundings of their homes.

Additionally, pediatric patients grappling with developmental disabilities and various medical conditions benefit significantly from the expertise of in-home PTs. These professionals tailor interventions to address the unique challenges faced by young patients, focusing on promoting motor skills, improving coordination, and fostering optimal physical development.

Hospice care

The primary objective of a PT focusing on hospice care is to assist patients in preserving their functional abilities for as long as possible, focusing on maintaining mobility, strength, and independence. Through tailored exercise regimens and mobility interventions, PTs aim to optimize and protect the patient's physical well-being, allowing them to engage in daily activities and enjoy a more comfortable and dignified life during their remaining time.

Additionally, PTs in hospice settings specialize in pain management, addressing one of the most challenging aspects of end-of-life care. They work collaboratively with the broader healthcare team to alleviate pain and enhance the patient's overall comfort by employing therapeutic techniques, gentle exercises, and strategic positioning. This compassionate and holistic approach supports patients physically and contributes to their emotional and psychological well-being, ensuring a more peaceful and dignified end-of-life experience.

Higher education

Exploring teaching roles within the field of physical therapy offers rewarding opportunities. One avenue for current PTs is becoming a clinical instructor within their work setting, where experienced practitioners can guide, develop, and mentor students in a hands-on clinical environment. This direct involvement helps bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, shaping the next generation of PTs and physical therapy assistants (PTA).

Moreover, those interested in a more formal teaching role can consider engaging in continuing education courses to prepare practicing clinicians. By sharing their expertise and staying abreast of the latest advancements in the field, these educators contribute to the ongoing professional development of their peers. Alternatively, aspiring educators can explore teaching positions in Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) or PTA programs at colleges or universities. In these settings, educators can shape the curriculum, inspire students, and play a pivotal role in molding the future of physical therapy by imparting theoretical knowledge and practical skills.


For physical therapists seeking innovative ways to deliver healthcare, becoming a telehealth PT opens up new frontiers in patient care. Telehealth PTs provide physical therapy services through live video sessions, leveraging digital platforms to connect with patients remotely. This approach allows practitioners to conduct assessments, offer personalized exercise regimens, and provide real-time guidance on therapeutic techniques, all while overcoming geographical barriers.

In addition to live video consultations, telehealth PTs may utilize remote patient monitoring tools and mobile healthcare delivery systems. These technologies enable continuous patient progress tracking, fostering ongoing communication and adjustments to the treatment plan as needed. By embracing telehealth, physical therapists not only enhance accessibility for patients who may face challenges in attending in-person sessions but also contribute to the evolution of healthcare delivery by harnessing the power of digital innovation. This mode of practice empowers PTs to extend their expertise beyond traditional clinic settings, reaching a broader audience and significantly impacting patient outcomes through integrating technology into physical therapy services.

Travel physical therapist

As a traveling PT, you can work anywhere nationwide or at any location worldwide. Being a travel PT allows you to explore different geographic locations and settings, including top hospitals, outpatient clinics, and long-term care facilities.

A travel PT works short-term contracts to fill gaps in physical therapy services. They travel to different locations, such as cities, states, regions, or countries, to provide physical therapy. 

Travel PTs perform the same job duties as traditional PTs, using physical intervention to help patients regain mobility and manage pain after injury or surgery. Their assignments are contract-based and typically last around 13 weeks or three months. 

Travel PTs can earn a rewarding salary, gain professional experience, and explore new places. They can also gain experience in contemporary practice settings, learn new skills, and gain lifestyle flexibility. Qualifying travel PTs may be eligible for non-taxable per diem budgets for a housing stipend and a meals and incidentals stipend. 

A young male physical therapist helps his young female patient rebuild arm strength using a dumbbell.

Digging deeper into travel physical therapy

Any PT can be a travel PT. All you need is an adventurous spirit, flexibility, and the desire to provide high-quality care. Becoming a travel physical therapist overlaps with becoming a PT and includes a few additional steps.

Here’s how to become a travel physical therapist:

 Earn a physical therapy degree

You need a physical therapy education. The traditional path is to start with a bachelor’s degree in any related field with classes that meet physical therapy educational requirements and prerequisites for an advanced degree, such as health sciences, exercise, or sports.

After that, you can earn your Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. A DPT degree typically includes coursework in subjects such as pathophysiology and biomechanics. You’ll also gain hands-on experience with computer simulations and on-site rotations.

Educate yourself about travel assignments

When you think you want to be a travel physical therapist, do your homework. This article is a great place to start. You'll also want to talk to other travel physical therapists or explore online resources.

For example, there are some things you’ll need to know that other physical therapists won’t, such as:

  • What will your taxes be like?
  • What licensing requirements exist where you want to work?
  • What locations are most interesting to you?

Some people prefer to travel within driving distance of home or cities they already know. For example, you could work in Myrtle Beach or Montana because you regularly vacation there or have family nearby. Others prefer to use travel physical therapy jobs to head to bucket list destinations like Hawaii.

Get licensed

Once you know where to practice, you must take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). This is critical to get a license in any state where you wish to practice.

Most states (30 of 50) are members of the PT Compact privilege—a licensure option that member states recognize, but you will still have to pay state-based fees and potentially take the state’s jurisprudence exam.

Work experience before you start traveling

Consider working as a traditional physical therapist for a year or two before you reach out to a travel physical therapy program or recruiter. Many travel physical therapy jobs assume (and even require) that you are ready to work independently on day one. Since you’re only on the job site for a few weeks, they are less invested in your long-term growth. Training and mentoring you won’t be high on their list of priorities during your assignment.

Why do healthcare facilities need travel PTs?

There are various reasons why a facility might need a travel PT, including maternity leave or short-term disability for an injury, a sudden influx of new patients, or a staff turnover. There are also many travel contracts available in rural areas all over the country where they have difficulty keeping permanent staff due to therapists not wanting to live long-term in that area. These facilities may use travel therapists year-round because they don’t have any candidates for the permanent job.

Travel is not just for PTs

Occupational Therapy (OT), Speech-Language Pathology (SLP), PTAs, and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) professionals can also launch travel careers. Many in-demand therapy careers can opt to travel. Travel PTs, OTs, SLPs, and therapy assistants can find therapy travel jobs in all 50 U.S. states at hospitals, inpatient and outpatient facilities, school systems, and home health networks.

Work with a healthcare recruiter

While finding and booking jobs yourself is possible, it’ll take a lot of time and effort. Consider working with recruiters who specialize in travel healthcare. Their job is to find jobs you’d be a good fit for and pass them along to companies for you—and because that’s all they do, they often have access to more resources than you would on your own.

Finding the right travel staffing agency and recruiters to work with is vital to your travel PT experience. Over 100 travel agencies are staffing physical therapists and physicians around the country. If you ask ten different medical professional travelers, you’ll get ten answers about the best staffing agencies. The truth is that every staffing agency specializing in travel careers has its pluses and minutes. The right fit depends on your needs and wants regarding setting, location, and benefits. Ask questions about the travel company and recruiter to ensure they fit you well and put your needs first. Find one who communicates when and how you want.

Let Prolink jump-start your career

If you want to begin your travel healthcare journey in 2024, look no further than Prolink’s selection of top travel therapy and local therapy jobs. Apply today by clicking the button below.

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