There are no longer any master's degree programs offered in the field of physical therapy because, as of 2015, the minimum educational requirement to become a physical therapist is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are over two hundred DPT programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). These programs typically last three years, but there are also programs that accept college freshmen and ultimately confer both a bachelor's degree and a DPT; these can last between 5.5 and 7 years. After earning a DPT, students often complete a clinical residency program, which lasts approximately one year. In order to practice, aspiring physical therapists must meet state licensing requirements, which vary by state, but all include the National Physical Therapy Examination, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
The minimum admissions requirement for a DPT program is a bachelor's degree, and applicants must have taken undergraduate courses such as anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry and physics. For joint bachelor's-DPT programs, applicants only need a high school diploma or GED.
Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
DPT programs include a combination of lecture-based coursework and clinical training. Students take foundational science courses in their first year, usually with only a few weeks of clinical education, but the hours spent inside the classroom decreases in the second and third years, as students spend more time learning in clinical environments. In total, students can expect to complete 116 credit hours of coursework, including 44 weeks of direct clinical training. Some programs culminate in a capstone project. Here are some classes that students may be required to take:
- Exercise Science
- Growth and Development
- Motor Control and neurology
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Graduates of DPT programs go on to be physical therapists, where they may find work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, private practice, sports medicine facilities, colleges and universities or nursing homes. They may also work directly in the patient's home. According to the BLS, job growth in the field is expected to be 34% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations. As of 2015, the median annual wage for physical therapists was $84,020.
In order to maintain licensure, physical therapists must complete a certain number of continuing education credits, depending on the state. To earn these credits, physical therapists can enroll in courses offered by professional organizations and for-profit institutions, many of which are available online. They can also get credits by attending national conferences.
Another continuing education option is to become a board-certified specialist in one of eight clinical specialty areas: cardiovascular and pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, neurology, oncology, orthopedics, pediatrics, sports and women's health. Before they can take the necessary examination, physical therapists need two thousand hours of clinical work experience, or they need to complete a residency program in one of the specialty areas.
Students aspiring to work as physical therapists must first earn a DPT and pass a licensing exam. Job opportunities for this career field abound, as DPT services are in demand in a variety of institutions and organizations.