Antonia Lima says her late father forced her to become a physical therapist. Well, "forced" may be too strong of a word.
It was more the series of events the father and daughter went through after a car accident left her father immobilized for almost three months, and it was the then-17-year-old Lima who helped nurture him back to health.
"He told me about these exercises he learned from his brother, and he told me I was responsible for making sure he did his exercises," says Lima.
"It was tough — and there were some things he did that I would never recommend to my patients — but it opened my eyes to something: People are willing to work hard to recover, but they just need a strong push from someone with the knowledge to help them return to their former self."
After a stint in Los Angeles, where she earned her degree from UCLA, Lima moved to Philadelphia, where she found a job working as a physical therapist for senior home care agency. Now in Chicago, she works independently, still specializing in older patients.
"I like working with seniors because I like to help them realize they don't have to spend the rest of their lives sitting in a chair watching TV," Lima says. "I help them get beyond that."
She says she helps her patients recover by charting and implementing a plan to strengthen them.
Physical therapists, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, "provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease. They restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and health. Their patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy."
Job outlook strong
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of physical therapists is expected to grow by nearly 40 percent through 2020.
"The demand for physical therapists should continue to rise as growth in the number of individuals with disabilities or limited function spurs demand for therapy services. The growing elderly population is particularly vulnerable to chronic and debilitating conditions that require therapeutic services," according to the Department of Labor.
"Also, the baby-boom generation is entering the prime age for heart attacks and strokes, increasing the demand for cardiac and physical rehabilitation. Further, young people will need physical therapy as technological advances save the lives of a larger proportion of newborns with severe birth defects."
Lima says jobs will continue to increase because, let's face it, people keep getting hurt.
"We see children who fall of skateboards or senior who push themselves too hard when it comes to walking," Lima says. "It sounds a bit cruel to say, but it's a fact: As people continue to get hurt, they'll need people to help them get well."
Practicing in Illinois
If you're interested in working as a physical therapist in Illinois:
• You must have graduated from an educational program for physical therapists that is approved by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
• You must pass an examination approved by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to determine your fitness for practice as a physical therapist.
• You must be 18 years of age and of good moral character.
• You must apply using the correct forms or apply online and pay any fees to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.