Online master's degree programs in physical therapy aren't available and there's a couple of reasons why. For one, the hands-on clinical work required for initial training in this field makes totally online learning impossible. Secondly, although physical therapy master's degrees still exist, the academic standard for those desiring to gain licensure to practice is now the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).
Some four-year institutions offer transitional DPT programs that are totally online, but these require students who have a bachelor's physical therapy degree and have thus already completed clinical requirements. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees in this field of study may also be available in a hybrid format. Applicants must have a physical therapy master's degree or DPT to be eligible, as Ph.D. programs focus on training professionals for research or academic careers.
Although many programs in this field require on-campus components, distance learning students have the ability to complete certain courses in a virtual classroom environment. Schools use online content management systems to present course materials, which may include lectures, assignments, videos and instructional aides. Discussion boards, chat rooms and Web conferencing technology may be used to facilitate class discussions.
The programs that follow are just a sample to give future physical therapy doctoral students an idea of their distance learning options.
Nova Southeastern University: Ph.D.
Nova Southeastern University (NSU), founded in 1964, is the sixth largest independent university in the U.S., and enrolls around 27,000 students, with over 100,000 alumni. The school offers a hybrid doctoral program that can be completed in under two years. The program -- which requires students to have personal medical insurance -- combines online coursework with short campus-based residencies held twice a year in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In addition to completing a dissertation, Ph.D. students take core courses in biostatistics, research methods and ethics. Physical therapy coursework may cover areas such as:
- Healthcare policy
- Physical therapy research
- Physical therapy professional issues
- Teaching physical therapy
- Physical therapy consulting
- Legal issues
Northeastern University: Transitional DPT
Located in Boston, Massachusetts, Northeastern University was founded more than a century ago. It currently has an extensive list of online program offerings at the undergraduate and graduate levels, which includes the fully-online transitional DPT program. The program is designed for individuals who already have a bachelor's or master's degree in physical therapy and have completed clinical practice requirements.
The distance learning DPT program can be completed in one to two years. Online students who have a master's degree complete a core set of six courses plus 4 credit hours in electives. Required coursework covers subjects such as:
- Medical screening
- Diagnostic methods
- Motor control
- Case analysis
Distance learners who enter the program with a bachelor's degree must take an additional class in research methods and choose a course out of a list of options covering practice management, health behavior or educational methods for health care delivery.
There is not an online master's degree program in physical therapy, but there is a hybrid program and a transitional DPT program if students meet the requirements for those programs. Northeastern University offers a DPT program online and Nova Southeastern University offers a Ph.D. program.