Doctor of Physical Therapy: Degree Overview

Read detailed information about doctoral degree studies in physical therapy. Learn about enrollment requirements, curricula details, outcomes, career prospects and professional licensing information. Find statistics pertaining to projected job growth and salary figures for those in the physical therapy field.

Essential Information

Physical therapists assess and treat patients with functional limitations, impairments, injuries and disabilities, such as musculoskeletal and neurological disorders. Within a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree program, aspiring physical therapists learn to work with patients to increase strength and eliminate pain as well as improve the normal functions of body systems, such as the respiratory, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems. Students also complete required clinical experiences, which generally include patient observation and examination, through campus clinics or at affiliated physical therapy facilities. Upon successful completion of a DPT degree program, graduates are eligible to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination for state licensure.

Education Prerequisites

In general, a student seeking admission into this type of degree program require a baccalaureate degree. Some academic institutions require students to complete prerequisite courses in biology, statistics, chemistry, physics, social science and psychology. Additionally, programs could require letters of recommendation and GRE scores.

Course Topics

Studies in a DPT program focus on advanced topics relating to human movement, physical therapy methods and physical sciences. Students learn to use problem-solving activities and case studies in order to enhance the learning experience. Common physical therapy course topics include:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Pharmacology
  • Neuroscience
  • Injuries of the musculoskeletal system
  • Research methods
  • Community health
  • Pediatric physical therapy

Popular Career Options

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapists could see an employment growth of 39% from 2010-2020 due to increases in elderly populations and survival rates of infants with birth defects ( The median wage for physical therapists was $79,860 in May 2012, according to the same agency. Graduates can provide community service, conduct research and practice in a wide variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Private physical therapy offices
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospitals
  • Sports facilities

Licensure and Continuing Education Information

All states require practicing physical therapists to obtain a license. To renew a license, physical therapists usually need to participate in continuing education, and some states require specific courses or activities.

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