Geriatric Physical Therapist: Job Description & Career Requirements

Discover the job duties of geriatric physical therapists. Learn about the education and training required for this career, as well as some alternative career options.

Career Definition for a Geriatric Physical Therapist

Geriatric physical therapists help elderly patients achieve or maintain high levels of physical health as they age by focusing on ailments like arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, and joint soreness. They evaluate each patient and design a custom activity and exercise plan that will allow the patient to remain as physically fit and active as possible. Once the activity plan has been implemented, the geriatric physical therapist monitors the patient's progress and changes the plan as needed. Geriatric physical therapists usually work in nursing homes or outpatient facilities and can work with patients individually or in group settings.

Required Education Master's or doctoral degree usually required plus state certification
Job Duties Include evaluating patients and designing a custom activity and exercise plan, monitoring patient progress and making changes as needed
Median Salary (2017)* $86,850 (all physical therapists)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 28% growth (all physical therapists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

A master's degree or doctorate is usually required for a geriatric physical therapy position. Most states also have unique certification criteria that must be met on top of the educational requirements. A master degree or doctorate program can take 2-4 years to complete after a bachelor's degree is awarded. Students interested in becoming geriatric physical therapists take classes in human growth and development, anatomy, therapeutic techniques, and psychology.

Skills Needed

Geriatric physical therapists need to have excellent communication and motivational skills and must be physically fit. They should also be organized and need to be able to administer and understand diagnostic tests. Patience and sympathy for their clients' conditions are also needed.

Career and Economic Outlook

The increased number of elderly people in the U.S. has led to well above average job growth projections for geriatric physical therapists. As more people enter retirement and old age, the number of available jobs among all physical therapists, including geriatric physical therapists, is projected to grow by 28% from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The median annual salary among all physical therapists was reported as $86,850 by the BLS in May 2017.

Alternative Career Options

Here are some examples of alternative career options:


Like physical therapists, chiropractors help people with their physical well-being. Chiropractors manipulate a person's spine and joints to provide relief from many health conditions. Working in this specialized field requires a Doctor of Chiropractic degree and a state-issued license. The BLS reported in 2017 that the median salary for chiropractors was $68,640. This career field is expected to grow at a faster-than-average pace of 12% from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS.

Exercise Physiologist

Those interested in physical therapy who want to concentrate on helping people of all ages gain physical fitness may consider careers as exercise physiologists. These workers develop exercise plans based on patients' needs. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for exercise physiologists. Additionally, some states require exercise physiologists to be licensed, and voluntary professional certification is available in this field.

The BLS reported that exercise physiologists had a median salary of $49,090 in May 2017. This career field is expected to grow by 13%, which is faster than average, from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS.

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