Online and distance learning doctorate degree programs in physical therapy typically culminate in a transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Physical Therapy. The transitional DPT is designed to provide advanced technical knowledge and practical application to working physical therapists. The Ph.D. in Physical Therapy allows academically advanced master's degree holders to focus their physical therapy education in the areas of academics and research.
Taking one to two years to complete, doctoral programs in this field are available from graduate schools at public and private four-year universities. Prospective students typically must have a master's and/or bachelor's degree in physical therapy to be eligible for admission. These programs contain fully-online coursework, but short on-campus residencies, dissertation presentations and in-person weekend labs are required of distance learners.
Transitional DPT Degree
The online transitional DPT program is designed for licensed physical therapists who wish to advance their careers in practical physical therapy application. This online doctoral degree program in physical therapy focuses on the technical and applied sciences, such as biomechanics and anatomy.
Like campus-based programs, online learners may choose to concentrate their program in the areas of geriatrics, pediatrics, education, nutrition and leadership. Distance learners can complete most of the coursework through online applications, such as Blackboard and WebCT. They must attend hands-on, weekend-intensive labs at the campus every term. Distance learners are typically provided 24-hour access to online learning tools and technical support.
Core physical therapy courses in the distance-learning curriculum address such topics as pharmacology, radiology, healthcare ethics and neurological disorder management. In addition to meeting core and elective course requirements, online students must complete a comprehensive case analysis and faculty-supervised research project. Also included in such programs are courses in the following areas:
- Differential diagnosis
- Diagnostic imaging
- Motor control
- Evaluation and manipulation
Ph.D. in Physical Therapy
Online Ph.D. programs in physical therapy are designed to advance physical therapists' healthcare-related education and research knowledge for leadership roles in research and academic fields. The research-oriented curriculum in an online Ph.D. program consists of core concentration courses, specialty courses, faculty-supervised research projects, a dissertation and a comprehensive exam.
Distance learners utilize online course management systems to access lectures, assignments and other related materials. Most material is presented in asynchronous formats, such as e-mail, discussion boards and presentations. However, synchronous formats such as chat rooms and video conferences are also used in some Ph.D. programs.
The curricula in online Ph.D. programs in physical therapy feature foundation courses in ethics, biostatistics and research methods, along with elective courses in qualitative research and grant writing. Additional topics found in distance learning Ph.D. programs include:
- Legal healthcare issues
- Healthcare policy
- Physical therapy consulting
- Advanced methods
- Patient education
Fully online programs are available for students seeking to earn their doctorate in physical therapy. Programs may require some appearances on-campus, such as weekend labs and dissertation presentations.