Online Schools for Physical Therapists: How to Choose

Jan 02, 2019

Learn about important considerations when selecting an online physical therapist school. Keep reading to get an overview of the program options, research requirements, and common courses offered for the field of study.

Finding an online physical therapy school can prove difficult, as many requirements need to be fulfilled on campus. Students should check individual program formats and the length of the program.

How to Select an Online Physical Therapist School

Students considering online physical therapy schools must make their decision based on several key factors. Physical therapists care for patients who have sustained injury to joints or undergone surgery and must recover normal movement and functionality. A few schools offer online and hybrid transitional doctoral degree programs for master's-educated licensed physical therapists that have not yet completed the doctorate.

Program Type

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree is necessary to practice as a physical therapist in all 50 states. Students who have a master's degree can enroll in a transitional DPT program, while those new to the field need to enroll in an on-campus DPT program that includes extensive research and clinical components.

Time Requirements and Format

Often, hybrid programs are specifically designed for flexibility, which is often a primary motivator for those who take online classes. Alternatively, accelerated classes are available for those who wish to complete a degree program more quickly than normal.

Online Program Options for Physical Therapists

Online-Hybrid Doctor of Physical Therapy

While rare, hybrid doctoral degrees in physical therapy are available. Designed specifically for flexibility for students who need to complete an education in their spare time, these degrees normally offer courses such as:

  • Applied human anatomy
  • Soft tissue palpitation
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Ethics
  • Orthopedics

Online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy

Transitional doctoral degree programs are designed for master's educated physical therapists that are already licensed and practicing but have not yet finished their doctoral degree in physical therapy. These programs are commonly available in online format from some institutions and do not face accreditation requirements from CAPTE. Commonly offered courses are similar to those of a physical therapy degree, but exclude hands-on courses and often focus on research. Examples include:

  • Biomechanics
  • Clinical neuroscience
  • Orthopedics
  • Pharmacology

Schools with Online Physical Therapist Programs

Northeastern University provides a Doctor of Physical Therapy transitional program that can be completed fully online. Designed for working physical therapists, core courses include topics such as differential diagnosis, nutrition, and motor control. A capstone project, completed as part of the Comprehensive Care Analysis course, is required and the results will be published as part of the doctorate award.

The University of St. Augustine offers a program, at its three campus locations, known as the Flexible Doctor of Physical Therapy. By completing lab sessions on weekends, students are able to work on the rest of the curriculum online. The length of the program runs for 12 trimesters, totaling 4 years. Online classes include both synchronous and asynchronous meetings.

On rare occasions, a physical therapist program can be completed entirely online, but most programs will see students spending at least some time on campus.

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