School-Based Physical Therapy Role FAQs

School-Based Physical Therapy Role FAQs

Physical therapists often start their career working in a hospital or nursing home. Another career option is working as a school-based physical therapist with children. If you have not worked as a school-based physical therapist, you might not be sure what to expect. Separating the misconceptions from facts can help you decide if school-based therapy is right for you.

What Do Physical Therapists Do In Schools?

All settings have their challenges and rewards. School-based therapists are often part of the team that develops an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students. Physical therapists developed treatment plans and implement many of the same therapy strategies they use in other settings. The main goal of physical therapists in schools is to help students achieve educational benefits within their educational environment. The long term effects of establishing this type of foundation during a students’ early years are beneficial. By allowing them to thrive within their educational environment, students are able to learn and socialize at the same pace as their peers. When physical therapists assist with a students’ ability to have physical access to their education, they are establishing positive, long-lasting benefits.

Which Members Do School-Based Physical Therapists Work With On An IEP Team?

School-based therapists are not on their own when it comes to developing a student’s IEP, Individualized Education Program. Physical therapists in a school often work in a collaborative environment with occupational and speech therapists, as well as teachers and aides. In addition, the student’s parents will also be included on the IEP conversations. They are crucial members to the team as they will know their child’s strengths, needs and interests more than anyone else. This insight will help to create a specific, individualized plan of action for the student. Teachers display a vital role on the IEP team, as they are able to explain what the curriculum expectations are for that student’s grade level. This can lead into a discussion so that a physical therapist can adjust their methods to coincide with the child’s curriculum. Other goals can be established accordingly as well as creating a plan for how the child can participate in classroom activities and extracurricular activities with their classmates. There are other members who can be involved in these meetings such as the child’s special education teacher, a school system representative and an individual who is able to interpret evaluation results. Click here to read more about IEP teams and the roles of each member.

Is Physical Therapy Boring In A School Setting?

Regardless of what setting you work in, physical therapy is far from a boring profession. Working in a school-setting may bring something different every day. Some days you’ll participate in IEP meetings, meet with teachers and staff, and develop treatment plans. You also have the opportunity to treat children with all types of challenges, and of all ages. At an elementary school level, physical therapists may assist children by supporting developmental milestones, refining walking/running skills, participating in group play, and throwing/catching. A high school physical therapist may become more involved in assisting with sport teams. From training and strengthening various muscle groups to providing assistance to students who are recovering from an injury, high school physical therapists certainly have a wide variety of tasks that they are able to play a role in. The wide variety of techniques amongst a wide variety of age groups presents the opportunity for physical therapists to thrive in the setting that best suites them.

What Is The Salary Of A School Physical Therapist?

Although most physical therapists probably did not choose their career based solely on earning potential, salary does matter. Salaries for therapists vary based on location and experience. School-based physical therapists’ salaries are comparable to their settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and home care. According to, school-based physical therapists earned an average of about $64,400 a year in 2019.

What Are Some Advancement Opportunities For School-Based Therapists?

Advancement opportunities are similar for physical therapists in most settings. School-based therapists can advance by becoming a lead therapist or moving into management. In addition to the advancement opportunities that are available to physical therapists, there are also variety of continuing education options as well. Continuing education courses provide the opportunity of career growth, thus increasing the chances of career advancement. There are several resource options when it comes to continuing education courses. provides a list of career development opportunities which can be found here. Continuing education course requirements are based on a state-by-state basis.

What Is A Typical Day Of A Physical Therapist Working At Schools?

Physical therapists in a school setting work with children with all types of challenges, not just congenital birth defects. Therapists often work with students with conditions, such as spinal bifida, amputations, and neurological disorders. Each day is unique as a school-based physical therapist. Students require specific IEPs, which presents physical therapists with the unique challenge of creating a specific plan that works for each specific student. Schools provide an ever-changing work environment for PTs. They provide the challenge to apply creative problem solving skills as well as critical thinking abilities in order to find solutions. For these reasons, schools are often highly sought-after workplace options for physical therapists.

What Physical Therapy Paperwork Is Required Of School-Based PTs?

As a physical therapist, paperwork and documentation is always a part of the job. Hospitals and other facilities often require just as much documentation and paperwork as a school. Documentation is a common practice amongst PTs and this fact remains the same for school-based PTs as well. This practice often aligns with a student’s IEP.  In general, PTs can anticipate documenting each session with the student, securing that documentation and sharing it with the student’s parents. Specific documentation practices, including recording platforms, may vary according to state as well as school.

Do Physical Therapists Have High Caseloads?

Caseloads for school-based physical therapists vary greatly, and it’s difficult to state what an “average” workload involves. Usually, you keep the same caseload for the entire academic year. As you learn what therapy techniques work with each student, caseloads may be even easier to manage.

Hopefully, by learning the reality about working as a school-based physical therapist, you have a clearer picture of what the job involves. If you already work as a school-based physical therapist, let us know if you had any misconceptions about working in a school setting.

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