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Distance Learning Physical Therapy Education Programs and Courses

Get info about online programs in physical therapy. Read about program requirements, course topics and degree levels, and check out continuing education options.

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Essential Information

Physical therapists who have already earned a bachelor's or master's degree may choose a distance learning program for their doctorate degree. Online Doctor of Physical Therapy programs are available through two routes. Transitional programs are designed for students who are already credentialed, practicing physical therapists. These programs offer online courses and sometimes hands-on lab and/or clinical practice leading to the DPT degree (Doctor of Physical Therapy).

Alternatively, several universities offer 'blended' (both distance and on-campus) physical therapy doctoral programs for students without physical therapist credentials. To be eligible, participants must hold a bachelor's or master's degree that includes certain prerequisite courses. This program takes about three years to complete.

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Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree

Clinical practicum training, any professional seminars or orientations, and the presentation of research must be done either on campus or at cooperatively-arranged internship sites. Practicum work is usually required for two clinical courses on current musculoskeletal therapeutic practices. Other residencies are usually planned for weekends.

Course topics

Expect 8-12 courses, depending on previous degree level and experience. Courses cover the following topics:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Examination skills
  • Diagnosis
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Neuroscience
  • Health care systems
  • Health care economics
  • Differential diagnosis
  • Research skills

Also, advanced classes may look at physical therapy techniques such as the following:

  • Musculoskeletal
  • Neurophysiological
  • Cardiopulmonary
  • Medical

Continuing Education Information

Physical therapists must complete continuing education units to maintain their licenses. Therapists may choose to complete these classes partly or completely online. Course options vary widely. Look for 'The Obesity Challenge in Public Health' in four online modules. Also, a 30-hour certificate program in assistive technology is available, which consists of ten weeks of online courses and three 5-hour Saturday classes on campus.

Online doctoral programs and continuing education courses in physical therapy are designed for students who already have a degree - and sometimes already a license - in the subject. In addition to completing online courses, doctoral students may need to participate in in-person practicums, residencies and research presentations.

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