30 Physical Therapist Interview Questions (+ Sample Answers)

The interview process is a crucial gateway to career progression, where thorough preparation can set the stage for success. For physical therapists, mastering this step is key to turning career aspirations into reality.

  • For Candidates, this guide offers a roadmap to articulate your qualifications and aspirations with clarity and conviction.
  • For Interviewers, it serves as a compass to identify the candidates whose skills and values best align with your organization’s goals.
  • For Mentors and Coaches, it’s a toolkit to help fine-tune the approach and delivery of those under your guidance, ensuring they portray their abilities and fit for the role with confidence.

In this article, we provide an invaluable guide complete with insightful questions and answers for those involved in the physical therapist interview process.

Table of Contents

Skill-Level Determiner Questions

1. How do you determine when it’s appropriate to use manual therapy techniques in a treatment program?

This question evaluates a therapist’s clinical reasoning and grasp of manual therapy’s importance, verifying their skill in patient assessment and commitment to evidence-based practice.

A good answer should include:

  • Mention how initial assessments guide your decision-making.
  • Discuss indicators that support manual therapy’s effectiveness for specific conditions.
  • Emphasize ongoing evaluation to adjust treatment as necessary.
Sample Answer: 

"I assess the suitability of manual therapy techniques by first conducting a thorough patient evaluation, including medical history, physical exam, and functional assessment. 

If manual therapy is supported by evidence for their condition, and no contraindications exist, I incorporate it with a focus on the patient's comfort and response. Continuous reassessment is crucial to ensure that the chosen techniques are benefiting the patient."

2. Can you explain how you would adjust manual therapy techniques for elderly patients?

This question gauges a therapist’s ability to adapt techniques to accommodate age-related changes in the body and potential comorbidities.

A good answer should include:

  • Discuss considerations for elderly patients’ delicate tissues and potential osteoporosis.
  • Mention the importance of open communication to assess comfort levels.
  • Note the significance of integrating manual therapy with other therapeutic interventions.
Sample Answer: 

"For elderly patients, I carefully modify manual therapy techniques by using gentler manipulations and considering their skin integrity and bone density. I ensure to communicate actively to gauge their comfort and response to the therapy. 

Additionally, I complement manual therapy with other interventions such as gentle exercise and education on self-management for a holistic treatment plan."

3. How do you tailor exercise programs to suit the needs of differently abled patients?

This question tests the candidate’s ability to design personalized and inclusive exercise programs for patients with varying abilities.

A good answer should include:

  • Highlight the importance of understanding the patient’s specific disability.
  • Discuss how to accommodate a range of mobility and sensory capabilities.
  • Mention the importance of goal-setting and regular reassessment.
Sample Answer: 

"Tailoring exercise programs begins with a deep understanding of the patient's unique abilities and limitations. I adapt exercises to their mobility range, ensure exercises are achievable and safe, and may incorporate assistive technology. 

Goal setting is done collaboratively, and frequent reassessment helps refine the program to match their progress."

4. What are the contraindications that you look for before using modalities like ultrasound or electrical stimulation?

This question targets the candidate’s knowledge of safety protocols and risk management with therapeutic modalities.

A good answer should include:

  • Identify key contraindications such as pacemakers, pregnancy, and malignancy.
  • Discuss the importance of checking the patient’s medical history.
  • Emphasize the need to educate patients about the sensations they should expect.
Sample Answer: 

"Before using modalities like ultrasound or electrical stimulation, I review the patient's medical history for contraindications like cancer, pacemakers, thrombophlebitis, or sensory deficits. I inform patients about what they'll experience during the modality and monitor their response closely throughout the treatment."

5. How do you train patients to properly use walkers, canes, or crutches?

This question examines the candidate’s skills in educating patients on assistive device usage for mobility.

A good answer should include:

  • Address the process of fitting the device to the patient.
  • Describe the steps to instruct proper gait patterns.
  • Stress the importance of safety, like adjusting for environmental hazards.
Sample Answer: 

"When training patients to use mobility devices, I start by ensuring the device is properly fitted for their height and physical capabilities. I demonstrate correct use, focusing on safe gait patterns and weight distribution, and then guide them through supervised practice. 

We also discuss environmental modifications for safety and encourage gradual independence."

6. How do you incorporate gait training into a rehabilitation program for someone who has recently undergone lower limb surgery?

This question examines the therapist’s approach to helping patients regain mobility post-surgery, with a focus on individualized recovery plans.

A good answer should include:

  • Reference the surgical procedure to tailor the gait training.
  • Discuss the progressive nature of gait training post-surgery.
  • Highlight how to assess and document progress towards goals.
Sample Answer: 

"Gait training post-lower limb surgery is personalized according to the surgery and patient's condition. Initially, it starts with weight-bearing restrictions and gradually incorporates strengthening and mobility exercises. 

I work closely with the medical team to ensure consistency in the rehabilitation approach and use specific outcome measures to track progress and adapt the program as needed."

Other Skill-Level Determiner Questions:

  • How do you decide which therapeutic modalities to incorporate into a patient’s treatment?
  • Can you describe the key components of an initial patient assessment?
  • Describe your approach to evaluating and managing chronic pain in patients.

Behavioral-Based Questions

1. Tell us about a patient who initially resisted treatment or therapy. How did you build rapport and motivate them to actively participate in their rehabilitation?

This question evaluates a candidate’s interpersonal skills and ability to engage and encourage patients who may be reluctant or non-compliant.

A good answer should include:

  • Describe building a trusting relationship.
  • Explain specific strategies used to motivate the patient.
  • Reflect on the positive outcome resulting from your approach.
Sample Answer (STAR Method): 

"I once worked with a patient who was skeptical about the benefits of physical therapy after a shoulder injury. To build rapport, I first ensured that I listened to their concerns and showed empathy. I explained the treatment plan in simple terms and involved them in goal-setting. 

Gradually, through demonstrating small improvements and celebrating these successes, the patient became more motivated and engaged in their therapy. Over time, they fully committed to the treatment plan and made significant strides in their recovery."

2. Can you share a scenario in which you had to handle a patient’s emotional or psychological challenges during their rehabilitation? How did you provide support and maintain a positive therapeutic environment?

This question assesses the candidate’s emotional intelligence and ability to holistically support patients, highlighting the need for therapists to recognize and address psychological barriers to recovery.

A good answer should include:

  • Emphasize the compassionate support offered.
  • Discuss any collaboration with mental health professionals if applicable.
  • Reflect on the importance of a positive and reassuring therapeutic environment.
Sample Answer (STAR Method): 

"A patient with chronic pain exhibited signs of depression that interfered with their rehabilitation. I approached the situation with compassion, ensuring that I was a source of emotional support. 

After consulting with their healthcare team, we introduced concurrent psychological counseling. In our sessions, I focused on positive reinforcement and small achievable goals to help maintain a therapeutic environment. 

This multi-faceted approach ultimately helped the patient cope better and remain committed to their physical therapy program."

3. Describe a situation where you had to educate a patient and their family about their condition, treatment options, or home exercises. How did you ensure effective communication, considering varying levels of health literacy and cultural backgrounds?

This question scrutinizes the candidate’s ability to deliver clear and accessible patient education, vital for successful outcomes and empowering patients and their families.

A good answer should include:

  • Mention the use of plain language and visual aids.
  • Explain how you gauged understanding and reinforced education.
  • Highlight your sensitivity to cultural differences.
Sample Answer (STAR Method): 

"I encountered a family with low health literacy when educating them about their child's muscular dystrophy. I used simple language and visual demonstrations to explain the condition and at-home exercises. I asked open-ended questions to check their understanding and provided written instructions in their native language. 

To respect their cultural views on healthcare, I also discussed the recommendations with the family elders, ensuring they were supportive of the treatment plan."

4. Discuss a situation where you had to manage a patient’s expectations regarding their recovery timeline. How did you communicate effectively to set realistic expectations while maintaining motivation?

This question probes the candidate’s communication and empathy skills in guiding patients through realistic goal-setting.

A good answer should include:

  • Share how you provided factual information about recovery timelines.
  • Demonstrate patience and understanding.
  • Encourage a focus on incremental progress.
Sample Answer (STAR Method): 

"A young athlete hoped to return to sports within weeks following ACL surgery. I respectfully explained the standard recovery period and the importance of a gradual return to activity to avoid re-injury. 

By discussing their long-term goals and breaking down the rehab process into phases with short-term objectives, I helped maintain their motivation while setting a realistic timeline for recovery."

5. Discuss a case where you had to coordinate care with external healthcare providers or specialists to ensure a comprehensive and integrated approach to a patient’s treatment. How did you facilitate this collaboration?

This question examines the candidate’s ability to collaborate and communicate effectively, which is essential for integrated care and optimizing patient outcomes.

A good answer should include:

  • Outline the steps taken to establish communication with other providers.
  • Discuss the role of each team member in the patient’s care.
  • Reflect on the positive impact of the collaboration.
Sample Answer (STAR Method): 

"For a patient with a complex neurological condition, I coordinated with neurologists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists for a multidisciplinary approach. I initiated regular case conferences and maintained open lines of communication through a shared electronic health record system. 

By understanding each specialist’s role and integrating their perspectives into the physical therapy plan, we provided holistic care that significantly improved the patient’s quality of life."

Other Behavioral-Based Questions:

  • Explain a time when you had to manage a situation where a patient’s family members had conflicting opinions or expectations regarding the rehabilitation process. How did you facilitate communication and ensure a unified approach?
  • Share an experience where you had to handle a patient’s progress was slower than expected. How did you manage their frustration and maintain their motivation throughout rehabilitation?
  • Can you provide an example of a challenging patient interaction you’ve experienced and how you successfully navigated it to achieve positive outcomes?

Situational-Based Questions

1. If you encounter a situation where a patient is struggling with mental health issues impacting their physical recovery, how would you incorporate psychological considerations into their treatment plan?

This question measures the candidate’s holistic approach to patient care and ability to recognize physical and mental health interplay.

A good answer should include:

  • Discuss interdisciplinary collaboration with mental health professionals.
  • Emphasize the importance of empathy and active listening.
  • Highlight strategies for incorporating mental health considerations.
Sample Answer: 

"In such cases, I would work closely with the patient’s mental health care providers to understand their needs and adapt my approach accordingly. For example, I might incorporate mindfulness or stress-reduction techniques into the therapy sessions. 

Clear communication and gentle encouragement help in building a trusting relationship that acknowledges their psychological challenges as part of the recovery journey."

2. You’re working with a patient who isn’t meeting their recovery milestones despite following the treatment plan closely. How do you investigate and address the lack of progress?

This question assesses the therapist’s problem-solving skills and adaptability in response to patient challenges, aiming to understand the practitioner’s method of reassessing and modifying treatment plans as needed.

A good answer should include:

  • Consider all factors that could be affecting recovery, such as comorbidities or treatment adherence issues.
  • Discuss a comprehensive re-evaluation of the patient’s condition and treatment plan.
  • Communicate the importance of adjusting the plan based on the patient’s feedback and progress, or lack thereof.
Sample Answer: 

"I would begin with a reassessment of the patient's condition and review the initial treatment goals and plan. I would engage the patient in a discussion to gain insights into potential factors they perceive as barriers to progress. 

Based on these findings, I would adjust the treatment plan to address these specific issues, whether it be modifying exercises, introducing new techniques, or perhaps seeking an interdisciplinary consultation."

3. How would you deal with a situation where a patient consistently cancels or reschedules appointments, hindering their progress in physical therapy?

This question seeks to uncover strategies for maintaining patient accountability and adherence to treatment plans essential for successful outcomes.

A good answer should include:

  • Express the need to understand the underlying reasons for cancellations.
  • Highlight the importance of patient education about the importance of consistency.
  • Discuss potential strategies to improve adherence, like flexible scheduling or remote therapy options.
Sample Answer: 

"I would first approach the patient with understanding, seeking to learn more about the reasons behind their inconsistent attendance. I’d explain the impact of missed sessions on their recovery and work with them to overcome barriers, whether that means offering more flexible scheduling options or remote sessions. 

My goal would be to help the patient commit to their treatment by showing empathy and collaborating on a feasible solution."

4. Suppose you’re treating a patient with a chronic condition who is at risk of becoming dependent on pain medication. What strategies would you employ to manage their pain through physical therapy?

This question evaluates the candidate’s ability to provide alternative pain management strategies and their role in combating opioid dependency, which is a critical issue in health care.

A good answer should include:

  • Discuss non-pharmacological pain management techniques.
  • Stress the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach when necessary.
  • Advocate for patient education and empowerment.
Sample Answer: 

"I would address this by including a variety of pain management techniques within their therapy, such as targeted exercises, heat and cold therapy, and mind-body practices like guided imagery or biofeedback. 

I’d coordinate with the rest of the patient's healthcare team to ensure a consistent approach focused on reducing medication dependency. Additionally, I’d educate the patient on pain management strategies they can apply independently to enhance their sense of control over their pain."

5. If a patient’s insurance coverage for physical therapy is about to lapse but they still require care, how would you assist the patient in navigating this situation?

This question acknowledges the financial and logistical challenges often accompanying healthcare and examines the therapist’s capacity to advocate for their patients and find viable solutions.

A good answer should include:

  • Be aware of alternative funding sources or healthcare assistance programs.
  • Show willingness to communicate with insurance companies on the patient’s behalf.
  • Discuss providing the patient with self-management strategies and at-home exercise programs.
Sample Answer: 

"If a patient faced this issue, I’d first ensure they have accurate information about their current insurance benefits and help them explore options for extended coverage or alternative payment arrangements. 

In parallel, I’d advocate for them by communicating with their insurance provider to request additional covered sessions if medically justified. 

Additionally, I’d equip them with a comprehensive home exercise program and guidelines for self-treatment to maintain progress as best as possible during the interim period."

Other Situational Questions:

  • If a patient is not showing any improvement and is becoming increasingly discouraged, what steps would you take to modify their treatment plan and boost their morale?
  • Envision that you’re working with a patient who requires a lengthy rehabilitation process but is eager to return to an active lifestyle much sooner. How would you manage their expectations and guide them through their recovery?
  • How would you handle a situation in which a patient’s family member is insisting on treatments or exercises that are not in the patient’s best interest?

Organizational Fit Questions

1. How do you handle stress and pressure in the workplace, and how might these coping mechanisms align with the demands of our clinic?

This question examines a candidate’s resilience and ability to maintain professionalism under pressure, which is crucial in a fast-paced clinical environment.

A good answer should include:

  • Share specific stress management techniques you use.
  • Discuss the importance of maintaining patient care quality even under pressure.
  • Reflect on how your coping strategies ensure continuity and quality of care.
Sample Answer: 

"I manage stress by staying organized, prioritizing tasks, and taking short breaks to re-center when needed. 

For instance, during a particularly challenging day, I’ll take a moment for deep breathing or a quick walk. This helps me maintain focus and compassion when I return to patient care. 

These methods are in line with your clinic’s emphasis on thoughtful, high-quality care, regardless of external pressures."

2. Our clinic values patient-centered care. Can you share an experience where you went above and beyond to ensure the best possible patient outcomes, and how does this align with our commitment to patient satisfaction and well-being?

This question assesses whether the candidate’s dedication to patient care aligns with the clinic’s values.

A good answer should include:

  • Highlight an instance that illustrates patient advocacy or personalized care.
  • Explain how your actions positively affected the patient’s outcome.
  • Make a connection between your actions and the clinic’s values.
Sample Answer: 

"In a previous role, I had a patient with limited mobility who was struggling with at-home exercises. Recognizing their challenges, I visited their home on my own time to modify their living space for exercise accessibility. This not only improved their adherence to the treatment plan but their quality of life as well. 

I believe this proactive and compassionate approach fits seamlessly with your clinic's commitment to patient-centered care and satisfaction."

3. How do you contribute to creating a positive and inclusive work environment for your colleagues, recognizing the importance of diversity and fostering a sense of belonging?

This question identifies whether the candidate values a positive work culture and demonstrates actions supporting diversity and inclusion, critical elements for team cohesion and clinic success.

A good answer should include:

  • Describe actions you take to encourage diversity and inclusivity.
  • Provide examples of how you’ve supported or could support colleagues.
  • Express the benefits of a positive and inclusive work environment.
Sample Answer: 

"I believe in celebrating the diversity of my colleagues and creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued. In my last position, I initiated a 'cultural lunch' series where team members could share about their backgrounds. This fostered a deeper understanding and appreciation among the staff. 

Actions like these not only bring us together but enrich our perspectives, enhancing the quality of care we provide. I am eager to bring this same enthusiasm for inclusivity to your clinic."

Other Organizational Fit Questions:

  • What aspects of our clinic’s mission and vision resonate with you, and how do you see yourself contributing to the achievement of these goals?
  • Our clinic places a strong emphasis on continuing education and professional development. Can you share your approach to staying updated on the latest advancements and research in the field of physical therapy?

Job Interview Tips

  • Highlight your hands-on clinical experience. Discuss specific cases, patient outcomes, and any unique challenges you’ve overcome. This demonstrates your practical skills and application of theoretical knowledge.
  • Emphasize your commitment to patient care. Discuss how you tailor treatments to individual needs, involve patients in goal-setting, and ensure effective communication throughout rehabilitation.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the latest developments in physical therapy. Discuss any recent training, certifications, or workshops you’ve attended, showcasing your dedication to staying current in your field.
  • Stress your commitment to evidence-based practice. Discuss how you incorporate the latest research findings into your treatment plans, ensuring your interventions are grounded in proven effectiveness.

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Brenda Calisaan is a psychology graduate who strongly desires to impact society positively. She aspires to spread awareness and knowledge about mental health, its importance, and its impact on individuals and society.

She also has a passion for working with children and hopes to dedicate her career to positively impacting their lives.

Outside of work, Brenda is an avid traveler and enjoys exploring new experiences. She is also a music enthusiast and loves to listen to a variety of genres. When she's not on the road or working, Brenda can often be found watching interesting YouTube videos, such as Ted-Ed content.