The practice of physical therapy includes a multitude of different fields. Some of those include physiotherapy and occupational therapy. You can specialize in either one by earning a college degree, as it provides quite a unique opportunity to collaborate with patients worldwide.
However, diving immediately into physical therapy right after you obtain your college degree is challenging. That is why physical therapists often take internships in the summer or during one of their semesters. It allows them to experience the work required and practice what they have learned. But what are the best internships for physical therapists? Below is an extensive guide to run you through everything you need to know.
What is a Physical Therapy Intern?
Regardless of the field, an intern undergoes an experience within the workplace in a specific area that allows them to gain insight, experience, and firsthand knowledge. However, a physical therapy intern is often a college student attaining a degree in physical therapy.
They choose an internship because it allows them to go through the physical therapy setting and witness what their lives might involve after graduation. Physical therapy has the potential to be a rewarding and exciting career to pursue.
However, an important note to remember is that to work in the United States, a student pursuing physical therapy must obtain a doctor of physical therapy degree. That means an internship is potentially a ticket to getting into another university to complete your doctorate.
That said, people could set up physical therapy internships for college students in various places. You might work in a hospital, clinic, rehabilitation center, or nursing home. The institute might pay for your experience or be unpaid, depending on the organization you will be working under.
Now, why is an internship important to a future physical therapist? What you learn in college involves both theoretical and practical aspects. While the theory is the foundation of everything you will practice, you need to earn some direct experience. The sole means of doing that is by applying for an internship and working under the supervision of other professionals.
7 Duties and Responsibilities of Physical Therapy Intern
The responsibilities of a physical therapy intern will vary according to the organization, the setting, and the specific role. Hence, the places you should apply to depend on your goals and what you wish to attain from experience. However, according to Zippia, a physical therapy intern, regardless of the location, often has the following roles:
- Collaborating with patients to evaluate how and when they will enhance their bodily functions and overall physical performance
- Manage a wide variety of patients and learn how to provide each with their specific needs
- Observing and assisting professionals in the field and learning from their expertise during treatment sessions
- Learning how to communicate with friends and family of the patients you receive and educate them so they can support their loved ones
- Maintaining the records from patients and ensuring the documenting process is thorough and organized
- Potentially assist the physical therapy team and the administration by overseeing appointments and taking phone calls
- Conducting more tedious tasks such as calls, documentation, and communication
As mentioned above, your role within the organization requires meticulous detail, learning from others, and working as part of a team. You need excellent communication skills and interpersonal ones. You cannot carelessly forget details to add to patients’ records, as minor details might be the difference between witnessing improvement or reversing it.
In a gist, your future career as a physical therapist is as important as a doctor’s. While your job might not involve life-or-death situations, you will be responsible for your patients’ physical and mental health.
But what are the physical therapy internship requirements? According to Marquette University, their program provides essential medical-related evidence, such as proof of taking specific vaccines and having medical insurance.
However, there are more general and specific requirements for college students, which might include the following:
- Enrollment in a program related to physical therapy
- A minimum GPA (typically around 3.0)
- Passing the criminal background check
- Providing proof of a valid health insurance
- Immunization against specific diseases such as flu and a tuberculosis test
- Some might require a liability insurance
However, some internships might ask for more or less than the abovementioned points. When we discuss the specific internships below, you can find the various requirements depending on the program you want to enroll in.
How Long Do Physical Therapy Internships Last?
The best time to decide on one of the many physical therapy internships is when you are continuing your education. Some institutes offer positions after graduation, but they are fewer than the ones you can find when in college.
That said, you should know the general period your internship requires. According to Therapy Abroad, the typical duration is between 8-12 weeks.
The great news is that with the growth outlook of physical therapy, with a faster-than-average expected growth of 17% by 2031, you will likely find more positions opening up over time. However, remember that the period will vary depending on the country, the organization, and the expected outcomes.
Are Physical Therapy Internships Paid?
Do physical therapy interns get paid? Unfortunately, there is not a set answer to this question. For example, if you are looking for a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) program internship, then you will be paid. That is mainly because you will have to execute highly professional work without much supervision. Hence, it becomes more like a job.
So, whether you get paid or not will depend on the organization. For example, a large organization or a hospital might have the resources to provide you with a stipend or a set amount of money. In more private practices or non-profit ones, you might not earn at all. Hence, it is essential to clear out such details with the recruitment team before applying for the position.
5 Best Physical Internships Programs for College Students
Various physical therapy internships are available, but how can you narrow them down? Below is a list of different institutes you can work in and various positions open across the United States and abroad.
One of the best internships is the one at hospitals. You can learn through a broad range of experiences, collaborate closely with patients, and learn how to be flexible in stressful environments. You will also have the chance to communicate with a large team of physical therapists and healthcare professionals. This will only be an added benefit to your knowledge.
Some examples of hospital-based internships include:
- Craig Hospital Physical Therapy Internship (Englewood, Colorado): the program is at least ten weeks long, and you must have insurance. Read more about the requirements on their website.
- Mayo Clinic Hospital (Phoenix, Arizona): to take part in the internship, you have to be in your last clinical practicum, and the duration is between 10-12 weeks.
Private practice internships
You will collaborate closely with a smaller team of professionals and a wide range of patients. In private practice, you will have to hone your communication skills even more, as the working space is smaller, and you must get accustomed to the same individuals. It often is more flexible as well. Some of the best examples include:
- Therapy Aide at Kessler Rehabilitation Center (Parlin, New Jersey): a part-time opportunityis presented here, where you are expected to work closely with a team of experts.
- Oregon Health & Science University Internship (Portland, Oregon): the university offers a physical therapy rotation internship, which you can learn about on their website.
Instead of working on the physical aspect, you can learn through working on projects related to physical therapy. You could contribute to the study within the field and enhance pre-existing knowledge. You can find them across research organizations, hospitals, and universities. Some physical therapy internships for undergraduates provide compensation. Examples include:
- Clinical Research Training Fellowship Program (Bethesda, Maryland): in this internship, you can work on reviewing and conducting research within various areas, including neurology and pediatrics.
- Occidental College Research Internship (Lose Angeles, California): there are countless opportunities, all diverse and under the kinesiology department.
Instead of enrolling in a general physical therapy internship, you might be interested in pursuing a more specific area. You might lean towards pediatrics, which allows you to follow an experience within the field. That also helps you determine whether this is the area you want to pursue post-graduation.
Physical therapy internships abroad
The list of physical therapy internships abroad is extensive, and there are numerous opportunities. We recommend finding which country you want to work in and then looking for specific positions. However, the list below will get you started:
- Cape Town through VACorps: you can participate in social, medical, and personal events through the VACorps program.
- Vienna through IES Abroad: the website offers a wide range of sports and exercises science internships.
- Peru through Intern Abroad HQ: this opportunity allows you to work closely and experience a real-life environment.
Wrapping Things Up: Physical Therapy Internships for College Students
There is not a correct answer to finding the ideal physical therapy internship. However, evaluating your goals is the best way to start looking for one. Do you want a paid one? Which state are you planning to stay in? Would you instead work outside the country and experience a new culture?
By addressing some simple questions, you can narrow your search and attempt to locate the best-fitting opportunity. As internships are often subjective, you can only rely partially on previous experiences and people who have undergone the training before you. However, it does present a solid starting point to evaluate whether the opportunity is adequate for you.