Working with geriatric patients in physical therapy jobs is a rewarding experience.

An inside look: Physical therapy jobs in skilled nursing facilities

As a physical therapist, you have plenty of opportunities to pursue paths that cater to your interests and your lifestyle. For instance, physical therapists who enjoy travel, want to see the country, or want to gain experience working in various facilities could take advantage of travel physical therapy jobs. Meanwhile, if you enjoy working with kids, you might enter a pediatric specialty.

Valerie Beltrane-Preston has worked in several fields, so she’s learned about what it takes to succeed in various work environments. In an exclusive interview with Aureus Medical, Valerie discussed the experience she gained at skilled nursing facilities.

“Experts predict the number of seniors age 65 and older to hit 69.4 million by 2030.”

What is a skilled nursing facility?
With so many different aging care communities, it can be difficult to keep track of each one’s unique qualities. This is especially true when it comes to nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities, as people often use the terms interchangeably. However, according to, while similar, the two facilities have distinct differences, which involve how they are regulated and certified.

Specifically, skilled nursing facilities are covered by Medicare and regulated by the Department of Health, and nursing homes are not. Additionally, skilled nursing facilities put more focus on rehabilitation, and physical therapy is an important aspect of care.

With an aging population, physical therapists can expect growing job opportunities in skilled nursing facilities. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, we are currently in the middle of an elderly population “explosion,” and experts predict the number of seniors age 65 and older to hit 69.4 million by 2030. These adults will need long-term care options, and physical therapists aiming to work with geriatric patients can fill that need.

Professional in physical therapy jobs at skilled nursing facility.Working physical therapy jobs in skilled nursing facilities offers a rewarding career path.

Valerie’s journey
Valerie didn’t originally set out to work with senior populations. When she entered the physical therapy career path 24 years ago, she just wanted to help people. She always had an innate sense of compassion, but her decision to pursue a physical therapy career was solidified by a recovery story she witnessed when she was in high school. During her senior year, what was supposed to be a fun-filled Friday night football game quickly turned into a tragedy. Her friend and classmate sustained a life-altering spinal cord injury. Valerie was there throughout his healing process and was inspired by the healthcare professionals who helped her friend.

“Watching his recovery made me further realize the important role physical therapy has in helping people recover from life changing events, and I wanted to be a part of it,” she recalled.

After graduating and earning her physical therapy license, Valerie worked in a variety of settings, including inpatient rehabilitation centers, acute care, outpatient and skilled nursing centers. Most recently, she took on her first travel therapy assignment for home health, giving her an even better understanding of the wealth of opportunities afforded to those in this career.

While each job led to new learning experiences, working in a skilled nursing facility was especially influential, as it showed Valerie the unique personality traits and skills necessary for working with geriatric patients.

“I have heard many times how difficult it is to get old.”

Pursuing physical therapy jobs in a skilled nursing facility
Seniors have unique health needs, and those working physical therapy jobs in skilled nursing facilities will perform a variety of rehabilitation techniques and strategies. According to American Seniors Communities, rehabilitation services are critical for this population, as they allow for greater independence and mobility. These elements are important for enhancing older adults’ overall quality of life, as aging has certain frustrating challenges.

“I have heard many times in my career how difficult it is to get old,” Valerie explained. She emphasized “how rewarding it can be to make this process easier for those experiencing a physical or cognitive decline, by improving their health and well-being with your expertise on the benefits of therapeutic interventions and exercise, and possessing a strong knowledge base on the aging process and the medical diagnosis and comorbidities that influence it.”

Plus, physical therapy protects the physical well-being of older adults. As the ASC highlighted, this method of rehabilitation helps with a number of senior-related health issues:

  • Falls: Physical therapy that aims to reduce fall risks is especially beneficial for seniors after hospitalization, as an additional incident can easily land them back in the medical facility. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of senior falls end in broken bones or head injuries. Muscle weakness, limited mobility and foot pain all increase an older adult’s risk for falls, and physical therapy can target each of these issues. The American Physical Therapy Association advised physical therapists to focus on improving balance, strengthening muscles in the lower extremities and reducing pain to prevent falls.
  • Strength: Building muscle strength is a common technique employed by physical therapists working in skilled nursing facilities. Not only can it reduce a senior’s risk for falls, but it can also grant them more independence. According to the National Institutes of Health, strength training enables seniors to more easily lift groceries, hold their grandchildren and move around their living spaces. Physical therapists guide their patients through safe and effective exercises to achieve these outcomes.
  • Pain: According to research in the BMJ, chronic pain is a common problem among the elderly, and it can lead to reduced mobility, depression and sleep problems. Targeting this issue is critical for improving seniors’ quality of life, and physical therapists can do just that while working in skilled nursing facilities.

Of course, as with any physical therapy job, there is no one-size-fits-all technique for patients. As Valerie emphasized, those working in skilled care facilities must take into account the senior’s medications and comorbidities to develop the most suitable treatment plan.

Do you have what it takes?
According to Valerie, the characteristics needed for working in skilled nursing facilities aren’t just technical skills. Rather, certain inherent personality traits are necessary to work with seniors. Specifically, Valerie noted compassion, patience and nurturing as three vital qualities for not only delivering high-quality care but relating to older adults’ unique life challenges.

Working with seniors is incredibly rewarding, and it gives you an opportunity to make a real difference. Even temporary travel therapy assignments in skilled nursing facilities let you build relationships with your patients, track their progress and help them meet long-term goals.

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