In order to become a practicing physical therapist, the entry-level degree is now the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), according to the American Physical Therapy Association and Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018). Those who wish to perform research in the field or teach other practitioners can also pursue a PhD. Several schools in Georgia offer the DPT, and one offers a joint DPT/PhD program.
Physical Therapist Graduate Programs in Georgia
Georgia Southern University
The program at Georgia Southern University, located at the Armstrong Campus in Savannah, offers the DPT degree which can be completed in nine semesters of full-time study, including summers. During the first year, students approach bodily systems; in the second year they study lifespan components, beginning with children's diseases and progressing through the lifespan. The third year includes leadership training as well as evaluation methods.
Another option within Georgia to earn the DPT is at Emory University. In this 35-month program, students begin their program studying the structure of the human body and principles of movement science, and advance to learning about pathology and disease. Students will take part in at least 30 weeks of clinical practice. The final semester of the program requires students to complete faculty-guided independent research. Students who wish to become researchers or professors have the opportunity to earn a dual DPT/PhD degree, while those who are interested in prevention activities may pursue a dual DPT/Master of Public Health (MPH). Joint programs in bioethics and business are also available.
Mercer University, in Atlanta, offers an 8-semester DPT degree. There is a physical therapy program on-site where students can obtain clinical experience as a physical therapist, and service-learning programs are available as well. Students can also pursue joint DPT/Master of Public Health (MPH) or DPT/Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. For students already holding the DPT, Mercer offers residencies in orthopaedic, neurologic, and cardiovascular physical therapy, as well as a fellowship in orthopaedic manual physical therapy.
University of North Georgia
At the University of North Georgia campus in Dahlonega, students can work towards their DPT. The program focuses on evidence-based practice, and allows students to gain hands-on experience through the STAR clinic on campus. At the conclusion of clinical courses, students take objective structured clinical exams to demonstrate their mastery of clinical concepts. A post-professional DPT is available for foreign-educated physical therapists to complete the requirements of licensure in the United States.
The DPT program at Augusta University aims to develop physical therapists who are competent practitioners and lifelong learners. The curriculum is based upon a competency approach, with spiraling learning experiences so that students develop strong practical skills. Block scheduling is used for classes. During clinicals, students can provide healthcare to underserved clients through a free program known as 'Christ Community' or help those in assisted living residences or clinics. In addition, students may choose Traditional Chinese Medicine elective courses.
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Physical Therapy Program Requirements
Application for the DPT is generally made through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). Unless applying as a dual degree undergraduate student, students should hold a bachelor's degree. While no specific major is required, there are prerequisites before beginning studies towards the DPT. These usually include chemistry, anatomy and physiology, physics, biology with lab, statistics, and the social sciences; grades in these courses may be considered separately. Most programs will require observation of a physical therapist ranging from 60-100 hours, and prefer multiple observations across a range of therapy settings. DPT programs are typically academically competitive. Most expect a minimum GPA of a 3.0, as well as a GPA of at least 3.0 in the prerequisite courses; however accepted students typically have earned a higher GPA. GRE results will also be required, with a minimum score of 297-300 for many programs. Potential students should also submit recommendations from professors and practicing physical therapists and a personal statement.
Some types of courses that DPT students will pursue include:
Students will review the structures and functions of a range of bodily systems. Students may be expected to dissect a human cadaver.
Rehabilitation for Musculoskeletal Conditions
Students will review how to examine, diagnose, and manage musculoskeletal deficits in adults and children. Manual therapy, assessment, and pathophysiology will be covered. Students may participate in clinical education as a component of the course.
Students will learn how to interpret medical tests to evaluate the nature of a client's dysfunction. X-Ray, MRI, ultrasound, PET scans, and biopsies are discussed. Physical therapy diagnoses from these exams are considered.
Students will learn how to analyze research in physical therapy and medicine using evidence-based practice. They may also learn the process to develop their own independent research projects.
Students will learn about the culture of the practice of physical therapy. The course will explore the history and scope of physical therapy, emphasizing the ethics of the profession. Effective communication skills with other professionals and with clients will be covered.
Obtaining clinical experience is also a crucial part of the physical therapy graduate program. Students typically engage in several short-term clinical experiences, as well as two or three longer placements. These experiences should occur in a variety of settings, including acute care, community outpatient care, and neurorehabilitation.
For students interested in earning a graduate degree to pursue an allied health profession, physical therapy can be a rewarding choice. Many programs in Georgia offer various options to help students achieve their goals.