How Much Do Physical Therapist Work: Hours and Typical Shifts

Considering a career in physical therapy? Want to know what a typical work life is like? In this article we are going to break down how much you can expect to work as a future physical therapist.

This isn’t a straight forward question with a one sentence answer. There are many variables to consider which we are about to go over!

How much do PT’s work?

The average physical therapist should expect to get paid for a 36-40 hour work week. This typically doesn’t include time spent documenting for the patients that were seen that day. Depending on time management and multitasking skills, a therapist should expect to work more than the expected hours for administration work.

A physical therapist’s workload really depends on the setting that physical therapist works in. Physical therapist’s can work in a variety of settings including gyms, hospitals, private practice, and sports teams. The population within that specific setting will also dictate how much that therapist works.

In the rest of this post we will break down the expected hours a therapist might work a day, what sort of shifts therapists are working based on setting and some bonus questions that are typically asked from individuals trying to figure out how much physical therapists work.

How Many Hours A Day Does A Physical Therapist Work?

A physical therapist will work anywhere from 8-12 hours per day with 8 hours of paid work being the most common. Unlike nurses it usually isn’t necessary for a physical therapist to work more than 10 hours in a given day. It is more useful to the employer for the therapist to work more days rather than hours.

That is the simple answer but there is much more nuanced than that. Your total hours and shift structure will be determined mainly by the setting you work in.

What Is a Typical Shift Like?

As mentioned before a typical physical therapy shift depends on the environment. Here is what you can expect in some of the most popular areas of work for physical therapists.

Outpatient Physical Therapy

Flexibility depends on the employer you have. You will most often work five 8 hour shifts, but there are other options out there.

You could have to work a “bactrian” schedule, which is very popular in the outpatient setting. With this schedule you will alternate whether you come in early vs come in late while maintaining your typical 36-40 hour work week.

Lastly, you could have the option of working four 10 hour days. This is a double edged sword, on one hand you have a three day weekend each week, yet on the other you have to endure an extra 2 hours each day NOT counting documenting. Choose wisely.

Inpatient (hospital) Physical Therapy

You have all the options as the previous section with a little more nuance.

One, you are going to have a little more freedom of start times depending on the hospital you work with and the program you are involved in.

Also, you may have the option, although more rare, to work three 12 hour days vs five 8’s which can be very enticing.

Lastly, you typically get paid for documenting in this setting which is unique to every other setting.

Home Health Physical Therapy

Home health physical therapy has the most flexibility of all the settings. A typical physical therapist in this setting starts their day around 9am and finishes around 3-4.

The trick here is the documentation. Many PT’s struggle at first as the paperwork is more intensive, but after a couple months a good PT can workout a routine that is more efficient.

Many PT’s boast they can finish their documentation in just an hour after their last patient if they document during sessions and focus. Others say they build time in their 8 hour days specifically to document.

Sports Physical Therapy

In this setting your schedule will be the most inconsistent depending on your exact setting. Typically you should expect to work a normal 8 hour day in the off seasons, and some PT’s see up to 80-90hr weeks in season.

You will most likely be at all of the games, events, and practices on top of your typical PT duties. You will do education to the athletes and coach’s and consult with other members of the team such as orthopedic surgeons and nutritionists.

Do Physical Therapist Work Nights?

The short answer is no a physical therapist will not typically be in a situation where they need to work nights. You can expect to work a normal 8-9 hr day starting in a range of times from early to late morning going into the evening.

There are some jobs that need PT coverage at night such as some hospitals or nursing homes so there is possibility you may land a job that wants/requires night work. Good news is this usually pays more!

Do Physical Therapist Work Weekends?

Yes, physical therapists can be expected to work on the weekends depending on the setting. Many hospitals have physical therapists rotate the weekend shifts. The weekends are typically slower shifts as the hospital is not performing operations and other medical work on the weekends.

In the outpatient setting occasionally you will come across a clinic that is open for a half day on Saturdays. In home health because you have more control of your schedule some choose to work long weekends and take off most of the week.

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