How to Become a Physical Therapist


Table of Contents

1. Overview: Job Responsibilities, Salary, and Common Requirements

2. A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Physical Therapist

3. What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

4. Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Physical Therapist

5. How Do You Become a Physical Therapist?

6. What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Physical Therapist?

7. Popular Schools and Colleges in the U.S. for Aspiring Physical Therapist

8. How to Get a Job as a Physical Therapist

9. Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

10. Make Your Resume Stand Out

11. Ace Your Physical Therapist Interview

12. Top Online Courses for Aspiring Physical Therapists


Job Responsibilities

  • Diagnose the physical and mental condition of the patient, their symptoms, their medical history, and their doctor’s notes
  • Evaluate the patient’s functions and movements
  • Develop a treatment plan of the patient
  • Teach patients the proper therapeutic exercises, correct equipment, and hands-on therapy to improve mobility and prevent further injury
  • Track and evaluate the patient’s progress and modify the plan if necessary
  • Educate the patient and family about in-home treatment and exercises

How Much Does a Physical Therapist Make?

The median wage of a physical therapist in 2019 is $89,440. The lowest-paid 10 percent receives less than $62,120, while the best-paid 10 percent receives $124,740.

physical therapist salary graph

Common Requirements

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$89,440 per year
$43.00 per hour





A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists (PTs) are professionals in the medical field who are trained to restore a patient’s strength, motion, activity, and also prevent disability after undergoing a surgery or sustaining an injury. They also teach their patients how to manage their condition by evaluating them and developing a plan using proper treatment techniques. These techniques include specific exercises, stretches, and even machines – all designed to improve mobility and restore the body function.

Moreover, physical therapists also have knowledge on surgical procedures and are familiar with the limitations of the human body as they need to develop treatment goals to improve the well-being of their patients. Not only do they need to be well-informed when it comes to their patient’s physical condition, but they also need to have extensive training with regards to their patient’s psychological condition to help them cope with the emotional challenges associated with their physical condition.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Physical therapists usually practice their expertise in hospitals, fitness centers, schools, occupational environments, outpatient clinics, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes.

A physical therapist’s duties include:

  • Learning about the physical and mental condition of the patient, their symptoms, their medical history, and their doctor’s notes
  • Evaluating the patient’s functions and movements by observing and interviewing them
  • Developing a treatment plan based on the observation and expected outcome of the patient
  • Helping their patients by teaching them the proper therapeutic exercises, correct equipment, and hands-on therapy to improve mobility and prevent further injury
  • Tracking and evaluating the patient’s progress and modifying the plan if necessary
  • Advising the patient and family about the proper in-home treatment, exercises, and how to deal with challenges during the recovery process

Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Physical Therapist

Here are some signs to prove you are meant to be a physical therapist:

You are compassionate.

According to experts, traumatic events can have an impact on the progression of physical pain. This is because when in the state of trauma, your nervous system goes into survival mode, making it difficult to relax and bring it back to its normal state. The body is in constant distress when this happens, thus resulting into heightened physical pain. Put trauma and extreme physical pain together and you become emotionally stressed as well.

This emotional and physical toll on a patient is one of the reasons why a physical therapist should establish a professional and personal relationship with them to make them feel that they are cared for and understood.

There are even studies that show how empathy and compassion are the “secret sauces” for an effective physical therapy. By being understanding of the feelings and emotions of the patient, both the physical therapist and patient are able to form a connection and build trust within each other. Moreover, the patient will be more open to share what they feel and explain clearly their complaints, if there are any.

You are a good listener.

Good listening skills (also called empathic listening) and compassion are not the same, but they are closely linked together. As an empathic listener, you empower the speaker, which is your patient, to become more confident and comfortable with communicating their concerns to you. This is by:

  • Showing them your willingness to listen without interrupting them when they are speaking
  • Allowing them to dominate the discussion
  • Listening attentively to what they are saying.
  • Asking open-ended questions to keep the flow of conversation
  • Offering empathy instead of sympathy

You communicate well.

Physical therapists should also be comfortable when communicating. They should be able to properly explain to their patients everything they need to know by using the right words and terms in a way that the patient can best understand it. 

When physical therapists talk to their patients, they consider the patient’s age, sex, ethnicity, demographics, and their emotional and mental state. It is important for a physical therapist to take time and get to know their patient and what makes him or her a unique individual. A physical therapist needs to learn how to determine and adapt to different communication styles to ensure that the patient’s concerns are being addressed and there is a clear understanding between the two parties.

You are optimistic.

A successful physical therapist has an optimistic attitude that reflects on their patients. Most of those who undergo physical therapy also suffer from symptoms of depression or extreme feelings of sadness associated with the physical illness and psychological conditions of the patient.

A physical therapist not only helps his patient recover from orthopedic injuries but also helps improve the patient’s mood as they ease their physical pain. Optimism helps a patient recover from surgery faster so a physical therapist should know how to redirect the patient’s negative thoughts and highlight positivity and progress instead.


How Do You Become a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapy is one of the most well-paid and in-demand fields in the healthcare industry. It usually takes 7 years to become a physical therapist, from studying to earning the license.

Here is the usual path of a physical therapist to employment:

1. Complete a Physical Therapy degree or a degree any related health-related field.

Physical therapists should first earn a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy or in any health-related field, focusing on courses such as: 

  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Anatomy
  • Chemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Physiology

2. Complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree

After completing a bachelor’s degree, an aspiring physical therapist must complete another degree in Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) which usually takes 3-4 years, depending on the program he chooses. 

DPT courses normally include:

  • Physiology
  • Biology
  • Rehabilitation Sciences
  • Pathology
  • Orthotics
  • Prosthetics
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Chemistry
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • Anatomy

There are specializations you can choose from when taking up a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.

9 types of physical therapy specialties certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties

1. Specialist Certification: Geriatrics

Geriatrics, or geriatric medicine, focuses on taking care of elderly individuals by preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases and other related problems specific to aging.
Geriatricians usually treat patients who have:
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Sleep disorders
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer (ovarian cancer or prostate cancer)

Geriatricians may work in physician offices, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and in-home care.

2. Specialist Certification: Sports 

A sports certified specialist is an expert in athletic injury or injuries caused while in sports or exercise. This is also referred to as injuries of the musculoskeletal system such as:
  • Sprains
  • Dislocation of joints
  • Shin splints
  • Tennis or Golf elbow
  • Strains
  • Bone fractures
  • Concussion
  • Shoulder Injury
Sports certified specialists restore function and movement of the patient’s muscle strength, improve their agility, and repair other affected areas. 
They generally work in hospitals, gyms, fitness centers, sports centers, and other similar places where amateur and professional athletes or physically active people may have access.

3. Specialist Certification: Neurology

Neurological physical therapists specialize in treating patients with mobility problems due to nervous or spinal system injuries.
When one damages a part of his nervous or spinal system, he will have difficulty controlling the sense of sight, feeling, smell, taste, and touch. He will also have problems with coordination, movement, balance, and the ability to think and reason.
Neurological physical therapists treat patients who suffer from:
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Peripheral neuropathies
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Stroke
Neurological physical therapists usually work in acute care and rehabilitation centers, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and physician offices. 

4. Specialist Certification: Women’s Health 

This type of physical therapy specializes in women’s health of all ages and lifestyles. They are skillful when it comes to women’s musculoskeletal systems and other conditions that only affect women. They often treat women who are dealing with:
  • Pelvic pain
  • Lymphedema
  • Osteoporosis
  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Postpartum
  • Rehabilitation following breast surgery

5. Specialist Certification: Clinical Electrophysiology 

Clinical electrophysiology is a type of physical therapy that focuses on electrotherapy and other therapeutic technologies, along with wound management. 
Electrophysiology is the study of the electrical properties of biological cells and tissues in the body. In medicine, electrotherapy involves the use of electromyography (EMG). It is an electrodiagnostic medicine technique that ensures the response of muscles or nerve simulation using electrodes.
This treatment improves physical functioning by:
  • Reducing pain
  • Repairing tissues
  • Strengthening muscles
  • Improving circulation

In addition, wound management is the comprehensive care plan of treating and managing a patient’s wound effectively. Electrotherapy helps speed up the process of wound healing.

6. Specialist Certification: Cardiovascular & Pulmonary 

Cardiovascular and pulmonary or cardiopulmonary physical therapy helps patients improve their cardiovascular and lung health. 
Cardiopulmonary PTs perform cardiovascular rehabilitation on patients who have heart disease or have suffered from heart attacks. They also help those who want to improve their overall cardiac health or reduce cardiovascular episodes. 
They also perform pulmonary rehabilitation that helps improve the overall pulmonary function, raising their patients’ awareness and education of their lungs. This program is designed for people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic inflammatory lung disease that obstructs airflow from the lungs and causes the risk of developing heart problems and worsening respiratory infections.
You may benefit cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation if you have a history of:
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Angioplasty
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Heart or lung transplant
  • Heart valve repair or replacement
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Congenital heart diseases
  • Cardiomyopathy
Cardiopulmonary PTs generally work in hospitals, clinics, and even in home health environments.

7. Specialist Certification: Orthopedics 

An orthopedic physical therapist treats patients to improve the condition of their muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and joints. They help heal injuries properly and restore the patient’s strength, motion, and mobility. Their patients typically suffer from:
  • Arthritis
  • Broken bones
  • Sprained muscle or ligament
  • Joint replacement surgery
  • Post-operative conditions
  • Bursitis
  • Tendonitis

8. Specialist Certification: Pediatrics 

Pediatric physical therapists work with newborns, infants, children, and teenage patients. These patients usually experience:
  • Developmental delays
  • Brain trauma or injuries
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Genetic syndromes (Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Toe walking
  • Difficulty in balance and coordination
  • Strength and movement inadequacy
  • Gross motor skill deficits
  • Any conditions and disorder that impede how a child grows and functions 
Pediatric physical therapists generally work in hospitals, clinics, schools, rehabilitation facilities, and even in the patient’s home.

9. Specialist Certification: Oncology

Oncology is a branch of medicine that deals with different types of cancer and tumors. The role of physical therapists in cancer and cancer treatment is quite unique. They work with both diagnosed patients and recovering patients.
This type of physical therapist helps ease the pain of patients with cancer and the treatment’s side effects that usually cause physical problems, such as:
  • Pain
  • Brain fog
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of endurance
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Numbness in feet and hands
  • Swelling of lymph nodes, arms, legs, torso, or face
They tailor programs and treatment plans to help patients by exercises and stretches, electrical stimulation, and massages that can be performed in a clinic or at home to regain muscle strength, improve memory, and feel comfortable.

3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and meet your state’s other requirements to get your PT license.

All states require physical therapists to have a license or certification, however, requirements are individually set in every state. Although there are different licensing requirements for each state, it is a must for graduates of physical therapy (PT) or physical therapist assistant (PTA) education programs to take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). 
The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) in order to become a licensed or certified physical therapist. 
The NPTE is an exam designed to assess the entry-level abilities of PTs or PTAs after graduating from their accredited program. This helps the FSBPT ensure that those who are only qualified are given licenses in the field.

4. Complete a clinical residency program (optional)

You can apply and train in a clinical residency program to gain experience in the area of specialty you want to pursue. This usually lasts a year.
If you want to become a board-certified physical therapist, you must work at least 2,000 hours in your chosen specialty after completing a clinical residency, and then pass the required exams.

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Physical Therapist?

1. Interpersonal skills.

This skill is a must for a professional in the physical therapy field because they will be working with different people most of the time and a part of their job qualification is to have a strong desire to help patients. They must also know how to communicate well with their patients by carefully understanding their concerns and medical histories so that they can instruct and coordinate the proper programs and exercises that will help their patients to stay mobile. 

2. Observational skills. 

Most physical therapists use their observational skills in diagnosing patients. They use this skill to focus on and understand which part of the patient’s body is not functioning properly. Careful observation is an important factor in determining how to correct and improve what is wrong with the patient’s body.

3. Medicine and Anatomy.

Anatomy, which is the study of the human body, is one of the main courses in a physical therapy program curriculum. Having said this, aspiring PTs should already be familiar with anatomy and medical terminology. 

Anatomy is the key to the practice of health and medicine as professionals use this to formulate a diagnosis. Once diagnosed, they will be able to create an action program for the patient. 

4. Physical Skills.

Physical therapy is a profession that requires a rigorous amount of strength and dexterity. PTs spend most days using much of their strength to lift, push, pull, and assist patients while performing exercises and stretches. They also need speed, balance, coordination, and good reflexes to guide patients through these physical activities.

5. Ethical skills.

Every career that exists in the medical field should understand how to apply ethics when treating patients. Physical therapists have a code of ethics or code of conduct. This includes:

  • Respecting the rights and dignity of all individuals
  • Complying with the laws and regulations governing the practice of physical therapy in the country in which they practice
  • Accepting responsibility for the exercise of sound judgment
  • Providing honest, competent, and accountable professional services
  • Being committed to providing quality services
  • Being entitled to a just and fair level of remuneration for their services
  • Providing accurate information to patients/clients, other agencies, and the community about physical therapy and the services physical therapists provide
  • Contributing to the planning and development of services that address the health needs of the community
  • University of Delaware, Newark, DE
  • Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
  • University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh , PA
  • University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
  • Emory University, Atlanta, GA
  • Northwestern University, Chicago, IL
  • University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
  • MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston, MA
  • U.S. Army-Baylor University, Fort Sam Houston, TX
  • Duke University, Durham, NC
  • Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
  • University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
  • Boston University, Boston, MA
  • Creighton University, Omaha, NE
  • University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, Minneapolis, MN
  • Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
  • University of Colorado—Denver, Aurora, CO
  • University of Illinois—Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • Arcadia University, Glenside, PA
  • University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
  • University of California–San Francisco – San Francisco State
  • Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences, Rochester, MN
  • University of Alabama—Birmingham, Birmingham, AL
  • University, San Francisco, CA
  • Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
  • University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
  • University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS

How to Get a Job as a Physical Therapist

If you are looking for a profitable career in the US healthcare industry by becoming a physical therapist, then this article is for you. We’ll give you a handful of helpful advice on how you will get a job as a physical therapist. 

There are many reasons why you should consider a career in the field of physical therapy.

First, it is rewarding. As a physical therapist, you make a huge impact on your patients’ lives by helping them manage their pain through treatments and preventing disability due to certain health conditions and other medical problems.

In addition to this, physical therapy is a career that pays well – with a median salary of $89,440, depending on the state you work in, your level of education, area of expertise or specialization, and years of experience. Of course you’ll need to get to grips with the key aspects of PT billing in order to realize your earning potential in this field, which is more easily done thanks to modern medical billing software.

Lastly, job security is an assurance in this field because there is a growing demand for patients who need physical therapists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected growth of physical therapy employment from 2019 to 2029 is 18 percent, with an estimated 47,000 job openings. 

How can you get a job as a physical therapist that pays? 

To become a bonafide physical therapist, you should complete the qualifications below:

  • Complete a bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy
  • Complete masters or doctorate degree in Physical Therapy (Preferred)
  • Provide evidence of continuing education relevant to your specialization as a physical therapist
  • Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination
  • Obtain a Physical Therapy license in the relevant states of practice
  • Complete clinical experience (Optional)

Once you have completed the qualifications enumerated above, the next question is: how does one find a job as a physical therapist?

Consider these factors when you are looking for a job:

Top job websites for physical therapist.

There are many ways on how you can apply for a job as a physical therapist. But uploading and sending your application online is the easiest and common way to find a physical therapist job.

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

If you want to move to another state to expand your practice, then you need to obtain a license to practice in your chosen state – different state, different licenses, different requirements, and different applications.

Just to be sure, ask the licensing authority in the jurisdiction of the state you want to practice in for the updated licensure requirements. Confirm if you also need to take the jurisprudence exam. Afterward, transfer your National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) score to another jurisdiction using The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) score transfer request form.

Make Your Resume Stand Out

Just because physical therapists are in high demand these days, does not mean that you can find a job easily. Most companies are looking for physical therapists who are excelling in their field. 

No matter how good you are at what you do, if it doesn’t show in your resume then chances are, the recruiter won’t be impressed and doesn’t include you in their shortlist.

A well-written resume will help you stand out and be one step ahead of the rest of the applicants. Here are some tips! 

1. To start, instead of using an “objective” to exhibit that you are the perfect choice for the role, use a “summary” statement. 

A summary statement is a short paragraph at the beginning of the resume, highlighting your skills and experiences in the field of your expertise. Take time to read the job description and customize the summary to add important keywords, such as the skills, areas of expertise, and years of experience required for the position. This will make your resume stronger, grabbing the attention of the hiring manager. 

2. Include your most relevant work experience in reverse chronological order. 

The work experience that you will mention in this part of your resume should include details relevant to the job that you are applying for. It should include your job title, the name of your current or previous company (or companies, if applicable), and the dates worked.  For every work experience, you should add 3-5 bullet points of your work description. You can also add the type of patients you have worked with and the setting or size of your work environment. To add pizzazz, you can add your key achievements as well.

3. Showcase your affiliation and exceptional skills.

Aside from your technical skills as a physical therapist, you can also include your soft skills or transferable skills that are essential to the position, such as strong communication skills, organizational skills, interpersonal skills, etc. 

If you are a member of an organization that has a significance to being a physical therapist, such as the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), please include this detail as well. This will prove that you are serious in your profession. 

4. Give emphasis to your educational background.

The educational background section is just as important as the work experience section. This is a vital part of your resume because this shows proof that you are qualified to be a physical therapist; that you passed the bachelor’s degree in physical therapy or in any health-related field and another degree in doctor of physical therapy (DPT). Including this also implies that you have passed the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and completed your state’s requirements for a physical therapist license.

5. Proofread your resume.

Even though the job doesn’t require you to have A+ writing skills, a polished resume makes you look professional and that you have an eye for detail. If your resume is full of grammatical errors, chances are, your application might get shut down even if your work experience and credentials are impressive.

Ace Your Physical Therapist Interview

The common interview questions for aspiring physical therapists are situational and open-ended. By asking these types of questions, the interviewer gets an overview of how you handle stressful and unpredictable environments. This will also show the interviewer how you interact with your team, patients, and patients’ family members.

Below are some of the most common interview questions and how you can answer them:

How do you motivate patients?

In this question, the interviewer wants to know how you connect with your patient. This is the perfect time to showcase your interpersonal skills. You can share to the interviewer the challenges you have faced when motivating your patients to perform and stick to the treatment plan you have developed, emphasizing how you successfully inspired your patient to participate in the exercise that brought about positive results. 

Tell me about your typical day at your current/previous job

This is a common question that gives the interviewer a glimpse of your past experiences and personal qualities to determine if you match the job requirements or not. This is why it is important that you review carefully the job requirements, duties, and responsibilities listed in their job posting. Tick off the requirements and tasks that match yours, and focus on those when answering this question during the interview.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

The main reason why the interviewer asks this question is to know if you will still be working for them in the long run or over the next five years.

You can let the interviewer know that you plan on gaining a specialization (Geriatrics, Sports, Neurology, Women’s Health, Clinical Electrophysiology, Cardiovascular & Pulmonary, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, or Oncology). This answer shows that you have a bigger career goal and that you are the type of person who is motivated and proactive.

A generic answer will also do. You can answer that you still see yourself working as a physical therapist five years from now because this is a career you enjoy doing and you feel rewarded. 

The secret to this question is to show your enthusiasm in the career, and that you’re planning to stick to it long-term.

Why do you want to pursue a career in physical therapy?

The interviewer wants to see if you are passionate about being a physical therapist and if you really enjoy this career. The more interested you appear, the more the employer would want to hire you. 

There are many ways on how you can answer this question. If you are having trouble internalizing and figuring out the main reason why, you can tell the interviewer that you are motivated to help others and make an impact, and being a physical therapist allows you to do that.

Simply saying that you are passionate about being a physical therapist puts the interviewer’s mind at ease. Tell him or her you enjoy working every single day – all you have to do is make them feel that you’ll succeed in this field.

What is your expected salary?

A physical therapist is one of the most top paid professionals in the medical field, especially in most developed countries, so you can expect that you will earn enough from this career. Therefore, you can answer that you will accept the amount that they will offer you. If they insist that you give them a number, then you can refer to the list given earlier on the average earnings of physical therapists in every state.

Your interviewer may also use the following operational and situational questions:

  • How do you manage movement disorders?
  • How would you deal with a patient after a surgery?
  • Describe a situation where you felt you delivered excellent patient care.
  • How would you handle a difficult coworker?
  • How do you cope with the stress as a physical therapist?
  • What qualities or characteristics do you think make a good physical therapist?
  • How will you handle your patient if he/she refused to work with you?


Always use detailed examples when answering their questions. Emphasize how you handled specific work problems in your past experiences. Explain thoroughly the actions you took and the results that happened. Always remember to focus on the skills and responsibilities required in the position when you answer the interviewer’s questions. 

In addition, you can use a spell checker tool in your software program or even have your resume proofread by a friend or a family member to ensure that your resume is perfect in terms of grammar and vocabulary.

Job hunting can be hard, whether you are a fresh graduate or someone who has been in the field for years. The technique here is to make yourself stand out over other applicants by selling yourself to your potential employer. 

Rejection isn’t always easy to take in, but staying positive and learning from the experience will help you move on from it. If you feel you did not deliver your best during your interview or you think your application could have been better, brush it off and try again. You’re already aware of what you need to improve, making you more confident than the previous attempt.

If you know that you did your best but still got turned down, just tell yourself that the company may not be right for you. Don’t dwell on your frustration; instead, stay focused on the opportunities. The company you’re meant to be in will eventually welcome you to their team.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Physical Therapists

Sharpen your skills in physical therapy by taking these top online courses

Skill Success has carefully curated and organized thousands of online video courses. Start your journey to becoming a physical therapist with these top online courses.

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