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Published: Jun 08, 2023 12 min read
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Hiring a physical therapist can be a challenge. You don’t just need someone with the right background and skills. You also want a candidate who fits your patients and existing team well. These are just a few considerations to remember as you research how to hire a physical therapist.

This guide was designed to simplify the process. We’ve teamed up with ZipRecruiter, one of the largest and best job sites for employers and employees alike, to outline the process and help you learn everything you need to know to find great candidates for your open position.

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What is a physical therapist?

A physical therapist is a medical worker who evaluates and treats disorders of the human body. They use their training to help patients improve movement and range of motion in different parts of the body.

People see physical therapists for many reasons. Some do so after a significant injury in an attempt to regain normal bodily movement in impacted areas. Others work with physical therapists as a form of preventative care, especially those who perform the same motions often at work or through personal hobbies.

What does a physical therapist do?

Before hiring a physical therapist, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what they do on a daily basis. The answer can vary based on the physical therapist’s area of expertise but will often include:

  • Listening to a patient describe their problem and asking follow-up questions
  • Diagnosing conditions through hands-on testing and interview-based evaluation
  • Developing personalized care plans to help patients reach their goals
  • Documenting progress over time and adjusting care plans as necessary
  • Assisting patients in using supportive devices, such as crutches and canes

This can vary based on where the physical therapist works. For example, a physical therapist in a hospital may spend more time helping patients learn how to use supportive devices, whereas one in a specialty private practice may focus more on preventative care plans for athletes.

As you work toward filling your physical therapist job, it's important to get clear about the specific tasks that you’d like the person you hire to perform. This will inform how you write your job postings and the types of questions you ask during interviews.

How to hire a physical therapist

Hiring a physical therapist is a multi-step process that begins with a strong job description and ends with a solid onboarding strategy. Here are some tips for maximizing each part of your hiring journey.

Create a compelling physical therapist job description

The first thing you need is a strong job description to attract the right candidates. Your description should include each of the following features, among others:

  • Educational and work experience requirements
  • The day-to-day obligations of the role
  • A salary range you will pay based on the hired candidate’s experience level
  • Working conditions (such as in a hospital or private practice)
  • Some basic information about your company and how the hired person would fit into it

As you put together your job description, you may also need to highlight certain qualifications or areas of expertise that you want. For example, if you want to hire a physical therapist who has experience working with children, that should be listed on your application to ensure you attract the right people.

Carefully evaluate your applicants by education, certification, experience, and skills

Once you’ve created a compelling job posting and shared it online, you should begin receiving applications. The next step is to review these based on the most important factors you’re looking for in a physical therapist for your organization.

The main factors most employers look at are education, certification, experience and skills. But you may value some of these more than others based on your preferences and the particulars of the role. It could also be helpful to consider each applicant’s treatment philosophy and career goals, as doing so could help you evaluate how likely a candidate is to remain with your organization long-term.

Start the interview process

Once you start receiving applications that you like, you can begin scheduling interviews with your most promising candidates. Be sure to ask both professional and behavioral interview questions during this process to ensure you learn everything you need to know about your applicants.

Here are some examples of the types of questions that can be valuable to ask during the interview process:

  • How do you manage patient expectations in your practice? One of a physical therapist’s biggest challenges is keeping patients motivated when progress is slow. This question gets to the heart of how an applicant approaches this aspect of the work.
  • How do you deal with difficult patients? Not all patients will be easy to work with. Asking this question will help you determine if an applicant will still be up to the task of helping a patient, even if they don’t enjoy working with them.
  • How do you keep yourself aware of the latest developments in the field of physical therapy? Physical therapy is a constantly evolving field. You want to hire someone who embraces this progress to continually provide better care to patients. This question will help you evaluate that.
  • How would you treat a patient with [insert common injury here]? This question is designed to give you an in-depth look at how an applicant approaches their work. It’s often a helpful point of distinction for candidates who look similar on paper.
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years? This question will help you determine whether an applicant is a long-term fit for your organization. If their goals suggest they won’t be, then that’s something you should know before hiring them.

Interviews should give you the last pieces of information you need to make an informed hiring decision. But make sure that you also use one of the best background check sites to conduct a full check before hiring anyone. You don’t want to sign a contract only to later find out that the person has a deal-breaking issue.

It can also be helpful to use an applicant tracking system (ATS) while conducting interviews to keep all of the information that you're compiling. We have a guide covering the best practices for using an ATS if you’d like to learn more.

Onboard your new physical therapist

At this point, all that’s left to do is make a hiring decision and onboard the person to your team. You can do that by:

  • Assigning a mentor or dedicated supervisor for the new hire to contact with questions
  • Scheduling a meeting for the new hire to get to know their coworkers
  • Setting clear goals and expectations so nothing is left unsaid
  • Allowing enough time for the person to complete their training without feeling rushed

You may also want to research some tips on how to retain employees while planning your onboarding sessions, as this process can play a large role in workplace satisfaction during the critical early months of employment.

Where to hire a physical therapist

Staffing agencies

If you’re having trouble finding qualified applicants, consider using staffing agencies. They do the hard work for you by interviewing, screening and vetting potential applicants so that you don’t have to yourself. Take a look at this guide on how staffing agencies work if you’d like to learn more.

Job posting sites

The best job posting sites for employers make it easy to find qualified applicants across the country. When you post to these sites, your job will appear whenever a physical therapist looks up “full-time jobs near me.”

Posting your job listing on major job sites like ZipRecruiter is the fastest way to broadcast that you’re hiring. That’s where most job seekers turn first. These sites provide a wide range of tools to make your candidate search go more quickly and smoothly, including resume scanning software and automated correspondence.

Network relationships

Networking is another excellent strategy you can use to fill your physical therapist jobs. It involves reaching out to existing professional contacts to see if they have any recommendations for your candidate search. You can also take advantage of digital networking opportunities through platforms such as LinkedIn.

Physical therapy program partnerships

You may also want to look into local physical therapy training programs and consider forming partnerships with them. Doing so can give you direct access to newly-trained, high-quality candidates to a degree that even the best recruiting software may not be able to match.

Company career page

Finally, you may also get a physical therapist for hire who comes to you. Qualified applicants may look at your website if they’re interested in working for your company. You can take full advantage of this by creating a strong company career page that highlights your current opportunities and the benefits of working for your business. We have a guide covering how to create a better career page if you’re not happy with yours currently.

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Physical therapist vs occupational therapist

Physical therapists and occupational therapists both work in the field of patient rehabilitation. This can make it difficult to determine which type of professional your organization should hire.

The key difference between the two is that a physical therapist focuses on helping patients improve their bodily motion, whereas an occupational therapist helps patients perform activities of daily living. For example, a physical therapist might help someone gain more range of motion in their leg following surgery. An occupational therapist might focus on helping that same patient move around their house more effectively.

Physical therapist vs chiropractor

Both physical therapists and chiropractors work with patients who are experiencing pain and diminished range of motion. But they approach the healing process in different ways.

A chiropractor seeks to help patients by realigning their spine, neck and joints. A physical therapist creates personalized exercises for patients who are looking to improve their range of motion or reduce pain.

Physical Therapist FAQ

How much does it cost to hire a physical therapist?

Patients typically pay physical therapists by the hour. They can pay as little as $30 per hour or as much as $400, depending on the professional they work with. Insurance often covers some of the costs of physical therapy as well when it's been prescribed by a physician.

How much do physical therapists make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average physical therapist's salary is $95,620. You may be able to pay a physical therapist less than this if your offices are located in an area with a low cost of living or if you're okay with hiring a candidate with minimal experience.

Where do physical therapists work?

Physical therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, private clinics and athletic treatment centers, among others. A therapist's daily responsibilities can vary slightly based on the setting they work in and the kinds of patients they see.

Is a physical therapist a doctor?

A physical therapist is rarely a medical doctor, meaning they don't typically have an M.D. or D.O. degree. However, these professionals do usually have a doctoral degree, such as a Ph.D. This means you can still technically call a physical therapist a doctor, even though they haven't gone to medical school.

What does a physical therapist assistant do and do you need one?

A physical therapist assistant is typically responsible for implementing the personalized care plans created by the physical therapist. For example, a physical therapist may prescribe an exercise for a patient, and the physical therapist assistant would guide the patient through the exercise and answer any questions they may have about it.

Summary of Money's how to hire physical therapists

If you’re looking to hire a physical therapist, following the process laid out in this article should make it easier to find the right candidate. It will be important to post the position widely, create a compelling job description and conduct thorough interviews with candidates who possess your desired criteria. The more time and energy you dedicate toward finding the right applicant, the likelier you will be to do so.