Career Information for a Degree or Certification in Physical Therapy

Sep 24, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a physical therapist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Physical therapists currently enjoy strong job prospects due to strong employment growth in the field. These health professionals are highly trained, and typically complete a master's or doctoral program in physical therapy after earning a bachelor's degree. They must also pass a national exam to be licensed by their state.

Essential Information

Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who formulate and execute rehabilitation plans to alleviate pain and improve mobility and strength in the face of disabling conditions resulting from disease or injury. This job requires hands-on work with patients, including lifting and assisting mobility, and therefore can be physically demanding. At the minimum, a postgraduate degree from an accredited physical therapy program and successful completion of the National Physical Therapy Examination are required for licensure. From there, a physical therapist can start working or pursue specialization.

Required Education Bachelor's degree (4 years)
Master's or doctoral degree in physical therapy (2-3 years)
Licensure & Certification National Physical Therapy Examination for licensure which is required in all States
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 22% (for all physical therapists)
Average Salary (2018)* $88,880 (for physical therapists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physical Therapy Education Career Information

Physical therapists are trained to identify medical issues and develop treatment plans tailored to patients' needs. These healthcare workers deal with patients whose injuries or ailments limit their mobility, such as individuals who've suffered from sports injuries, stroke or arthritis. Physical Therapists often work in outpatient centers, general or specialized hospitals and private practices. They might also find employment in extended care facilities, home health care services, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and fitness centers. Some physical therapists teach and conduct research at colleges or universities.

Job Outlook and Earnings

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapist jobs are expected to increase 22% between 2018 and 2028. In May 2018, the average annual wage of a physical therapist was $88,880.

Educational Requirements for Physical Therapists

The minimum requirement for entry into this field is a post-baccalaureate degree from a physical therapy program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. Master's degree programs usually last 2-2.5 years, and doctoral programs are roughly three years in duration. To gain admission into such programs, students may need to take undergraduate courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics, social sciences and mathematics. Volunteer work in hospitals or clinics is also looked upon favorably by admissions boards.


Physical therapist educational programs strive to increase students' knowledge of the health science through classroom, laboratory and clinical instruction. Students may take courses in exercise and physical therapy techniques, pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, motor control and neuroscience. During clinical instruction, students gain supervised experience in physical therapy. They might learn about medical screening, differential diagnostics and therapeutic intervention.

Licensure and Certification for Physical Therapists

In all states, licensure as a physical therapist is mandatory. Licensing requirements often include completion of an accredited physical therapy program and passage of the National Physical Therapy Examination. Candidates may also be required to pass physical therapy law exams or meet other state-specific requirements. Most physical therapists continue their education by taking various courses and workshops to maintain licensure.

Physical therapists may also choose to become board certified in a specialty of the field. The American Board of Physical Therapy offers certification in eight areas, including pediatrics, geriatrics, cardiovascular and sports physical therapy. Candidates for certification must be licensed and have 2,000 hours of experience in their specialties. They may then sit for a specialty exam.

Physical therapists work with clients who have disabilities or injuries that are limiting their mobility. They may determine a course of therapy that will improve the patient's strength or help to manage pain. They are typically employed in hospitals or clinics, or they may establish their own private practice.

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