Physical Therapist Training Programs and Requirements

Dec 10, 2019

Physical therapist training programs are usually available at the doctoral level and help prepare students for a career as a licensed physical therapist. Get more details about the degree program, requirements, and available schools here.

Physical Therapist Training Programs

A student wondering what training is required to be a physical therapist should know that physical therapists need to have an advanced graduate degree in the field, typically a doctorate. Physical therapist diploma programs are not common. A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is the most prevalent degree awarded in the field, but there are some colleges that offer master's degree programs in physical therapy.

DPT programs are usually designed to help prepare graduates to take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and state licensure exams to become a physical therapist. Some programs may provide students with team-based learning opportunities and/or research opportunities in the field, but nearly, if not all, DPT programs require extensive hands-on training in physical therapy through clinical experiences and/or internships.

DPT programs are typically 3 years in length, with the final year being dedicated to a full-time clinical internship experience. During the first 2 years of the program, students may be required to take courses in topics such as:

  • Neuromuscular physical therapy
  • Musculoskeletal physical therapy
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology
  • Patient examination
  • Movement science
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Pediatrics

Master's in Physical Therapy

Although they are much rarer, some schools, such as the University of Pittsburgh, offer a master's in physical therapy. These degree programs may allow students to choose from concentrations such as neuromuscular physical therapy or musculoskeletal physical therapy. These programs are also generally shorter and can be completed in 1 year. Students still complete didactic coursework and clinical rotations for hands-on experience.

Entrance Requirements for Physical Therapist Training

Most DPT programs require applicants to have completed prerequisite coursework prior to admission into the program. Often, students need to pass these courses with a grade of a 'C' or higher. These prerequisite courses are heavy in science and math and may include topics in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Statistics
  • Calculus
  • Anatomy

Outside of prerequisite courses, applicants to DPT programs may be required to provide evidence of physical therapy observation hours. These hours may be completed through working or volunteering and having a licensed physical therapist sign off on the completed hours. Other requirements for applications to DPT programs may include GRE scores, references, and essays.

Schools with Physical Therapist Programs

There are many schools throughout the country that offer DPT programs, such as schools in Texas with physical therapy programs and New Jersey schools with physical therapy programs. Physical therapy schools include both public and private institutions. In the table below, you can compare a handful of some of the more prestigious DPT schools in the United States.

School Name Institution Type Location
Duke University 4-year, Private not-for-profit Durham, NC
University of Pittsburgh 4-year, Public Pittsburgh, PA
Northwestern University 4-year, Private not-for-profit Evanston, IL
University of Southern California 4-year, Private not-for-profit Los Angeles, CA
University of Iowa 4-year, Public Iowa City, IA

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Physical Therapist Career Overview

Degree Required Doctoral or professional degree
Other Requirements License
Median Pay (2018)* $87,930
Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)* 22%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Physical therapists generally work full-time during normal business hours in settings like doctors' offices, hospitals, and home healthcare services. Physical therapists must have physical stamina to spend most of the day on their feet, helping patients move and perform exercises. These professionals also need to be compassionate as they work with patients, as well as detail-oriented and resourceful, as they create and adjust treatment plans.

Physical therapists are primarily responsible for helping sick or injured patients relieve pain and increase their ability to move. This may require physical therapists to perform duties like:

  • Diagnosing movements and issues
  • Discussing goals with patients
  • Creating an individualized treatment plan
  • Evaluating medical histories
  • Teaching stretches and exercises to patients
  • Utilizing hands-on therapies
  • Monitoring patient progress
  • Encouraging patients and families during rehabilitation
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