At age 30, Jennifer Gamboa decided to leave a career in environmental public policy and train as a physical therapist. “I like to solve puzzles,” she says. “Physical therapy is like peeling the layers of an onion. First you resolve a patient's short-term symptoms. Then you go further and say, ‘How can we prevent this from happening again and keep this person free from injury and pain?’ ” Helping people as they heal offers profound rewards and may explain why PTs report a satisfaction rate of almost 80 percent—second only to members of the clergy—according to a national survey by University of Chicago researchers.
Also contributing to that job satisfaction is the fact that PTs can pursue a variety of career paths, offering flexibility in different ways. “We treat people from age zero to when they die; we treat all kinds of injuries and illnesses. You can find physical therapy everywhere, in huge organizations or tiny practices,” says Janet Bezner, PT, PhD, deputy executive director of the American Physical Therapy Association. “I don't know that we've had to strive for flexibility; this may just be what happens when the profession is so broad and our workforce is almost 70 percent female.”
Gamboa now owns a private practice in Arlington, Virginia, where she employs 30 PTs, massage therapists, acupuncturists and personal trainers. She continues to see patients two days a week and spends the rest of her time running the business, usually starting work at 5:30 am so she can be free by 3 pm to pick up her kids from school. Those hours aren't unusual for PTs, whether they provide home care or work in private practice, hospitals or nursing homes. “We often have the option of working early or late shifts because patients may need to be seen before or after their own workdays,” says Bezner. “We're a people-oriented profession, and that translates to our managerial style. I hear that in more-corporate settings there can be bias against people who work part time, but that's not the case with this field.”
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