Majors and Undergraduate Studies for Aspiring Physical Therapists

Aspiring physical therapists can pursue bachelor's degree programs in pre-physical therapy to prepare for a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, which is required to become a licensed physical therapist. Individuals may also seek a career path in physical therapy assisting via an associate's degree.

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Essential Information

Both the bachelor's degree in pre-physical therapy and the associate's degree in physical therapy assisting programs emphasize exercise science and rehabilitative techniques as part of their curriculum. Physical therapist assistant programs train students to perform duties like lifting patients and assisting with manual exercise. Bachelor's degree programs in pre-physical therapy are designed to prepare students for doctoral programs in the field. Both programs' curricula include a laboratory component, as well as a clinical practicum that allows students to gain hands-on experience with patients. To be considered for admission, students will need to have their high school diplomas, pass a criminal background check, have up-to-date immunizations and undergo a physical check-up.


Associate of Science in Physical Therapy Assisting

An associate's degree in physical therapy assisting program includes curriculum in human anatomy and physiology, physical therapist assistant procedures, pain relief methods and rehabilitation techniques. Additional coursework explores using exercise to treat injury, disease and physical disability, and a pathophysiology course examines common post-operative conditions. Students complete a clinical practicum to receive hands-on training working with patients and professionals in the field. Coursework explores the role of a physical therapist assistant in a therapeutic treatment team, including ethical, professional behavior and safe and effective performance of clinical duties. Topics in the program include:

  • Kinesiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Physical therapy modalities
  • Body movement
  • Biofeedback

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Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy

A Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy prepares students for the graduate-level programs required to become a licensed physical therapist. Science-intensive with a laboratory component, the bachelor's degree program explores physiology of exercise and physical therapy techniques to treat people who are disabled, injured, post-operative or suffering from disease. Toward the end of the undergraduate program, students complete a field practicum where they work with patients under the supervision of a physical therapist at a medical facility. Coursework includes introductory subjects like anatomy and physiology, microbiology and chemistry, as well as advanced subjects like immunology, genetics and histology. Other topics in the program include:

  • Lifestyle and nutrition
  • Physical education
  • Skeletal and muscular systems
  • Exercise science
  • Human development

Popular Career Options

Graduates of the associate's degree program go on to careers in medical settings, including hospitals, physician's offices and rehabilitation centers. Popular career options for graduates at this level include:

  • Physical therapist assistant
  • Physical education instructor
  • Fitness trainer
  • Fitness manager

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Physical therapist assistants held about 78,700 jobs in the U.S. in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which expected that number to grow by 41% between 2014 and 2024 (ww.bls.gov). The median salary for physical therapy assistants in May 2015 was $55,170. The BLS reported physical therapists held 210,900 jobs in 2014, with a projected growth of 34% between 2014-2024. The median salary for physical therapists in 2015 was $84,020.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

Graduates of the associate's degree program can enroll in a bachelor's degree program in pre-physical therapy to improve job prospects and boost salary expectations. Graduates are also eligible to sit for the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for physical therapist assistants offered through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Licensing requirements for physical therapist assistants are available through the individual state licensing boards.

Graduates of bachelor's in pre-physical therapy programs who want to become licensed physical therapists can enroll in a master's degree program or a Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.) program. Graduates of D.P.T. programs are eligible to sit for the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy's National Physical Therapy Exam for physical therapists. As with physical therapy assistants, licensing requirements vary by state.

Prospective physical therapists have a couple of educational track options at the undergraduate level. Depending on future career goals, students may choose to pursue an associate's or bachelor's degree in pre-physical therapy.

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