Physical Therapist Training Programs and Requirements

Physical therapy degree programs prepare students to work hands-on with patients who need physical therapy. The majority of students in physical therapy training programs complete doctoral degrees in the field, but some may practice with master's degrees.

Essential Information

Students interested in becoming physical therapists usually begin by enrolling in undergraduate degree programs. In order to practice, students must then complete accredited physical therapy graduate degree programs and be certified.

The prerequisite for a Master of Physical Therapy degree is a bachelor's degree and for a Doctor of Physical Therapy, a master's degree. The undergraduate degree should have an emphasis in a health or science-related field. Specializations include electrophysiology and geriatric therapy, among others, and clinical experiences are required.

Master's Degree in Physical Therapy

The Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) is a 2-year graduate degree program that prepares students for practice as physical therapists. Although less common than the Doctor of Physical Therapy, an MPT degree program introduces students to relevant topics, including the following:

  • Neurological physical therapy
  • Cardiopulmonary physical therapy
  • Psycho-social issues in physical therapy
  • Full-time clinical experiences

Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is the most common degree program completed by physical therapy students. Students generally engage in clinical internships during all three years of study. This program generally lasts three years and offers courses in topics such as

  • Bio-mechanics
  • Neuroscience
  • Movement science

Some universities offer accelerated DPT programs where students complete both their bachelor's and DPT degrees in five years.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2015, physical therapists earned a mean annual salary of $85,790. The BLS also reported that, from 2014-2024, physical therapists were expected to see a 34% growth rate in employment (www.bls.gov).

Job Experience

Physical therapists must gain clinical experience working with patients before practicing on their own. Much of this experience comes from internships completed during graduate study. Physical therapists should be comfortable working closely with patients before entering the workforce.

Licenses and Certifications

All states require physical therapists to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) before working legally. Therapists must also hold graduate degrees from accredited physical therapy programs. Depending on the state in which the physical therapist plans to work, there may be other requirements, such as additional examinations.

Continuing Education

A variety of workshops, both online and onsite, are available to physical therapists. Because technological advances in the delivery of physical therapy are common, workshops often address these advances. Seminars may also be available in patient interaction and physical therapy cost control.

Many states require physical therapists to complete continuing education hours each year to maintain their certifications. Classes may be available at local colleges or online.

After earning a bachelor's degree, future physical therapists usually go on to earn a master's degree or a doctorate. At all levels, physical therapists must be licensed before practicing.

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