Physical therapists are trained health professionals who use hands-on methods such as massage and exercise to help patients overcome pain and function better in their daily lives. If you want to become a physical therapist, you'll need to complete a graduate degree and fulfill your state's licensing requirements. A doctor of physical therapy degree is now the standard career qualification. This doctoral program takes approximately three years and includes both class instruction and clinical experience.
Doctor of physical therapy programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy. Accreditation means that a program has met the quality standards of the profession. In addition, only an accredited degree qualifies you to take the physical therapy licensing exam, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. The CAPTE website provides a search tool for accredited physical therapy doctoral degree programs.
The admission requirements for doctor of physical therapy programs depend on the particular college, but most programs require a bachelor's degree. In addition, applicants must have the required prerequisite classes, which usually include biology, anatomy and physiology and chemistry. However, some schools admit students to a doctoral program after three years of specific undergraduate coursework, and others admit students immediately after high school. Those admitted to the PT program as freshmen must complete the undergraduate prerequisites before they begin taking the actual physical therapy classes.
Eighty percent of a typical PT curriculum is devoted to class and lab work, according to APTA. The usual classes include anatomy, biology, physiology, exercise physiology, kinesiology, pharmacology and biomechanics. Students also study the various body systems, including the endocrine, muscular and cardiovascular systems. Courses such as evidence-based practice, ethics and clinical reasoning teach students to make decisions relating to patient care. Additional classes in communication, sociology, management science and finance prepare them for the human relations and practical aspects of a physical therapist's role.
Most doctoral programs in physical therapy devote approximately 20 percent of the training time to clinical practice, according to APTA, with an average time of 27.5 weeks. At Chatham University in Pennsylvania, for example, doctoral students complete 36 weeks of clinical training in outpatient facilities, skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and various hospital departments, including general care, acute care and pediatrics.
In addition to developing your knowledge and skills, a doctoral program in physical therapy prepares you for state licensing. The requirements for a PT license depend on the rulings of the board of physical therapy or medicine in each state. In general, however, licensing requires an accredited physical therapy degree and passing the National Physical Therapy Examination or a state exam. In some states, physical therapists must also complete continuing education to remained licensed.
Doctor of Physical Therapy Career
Your job prospects as a doctor of physical therapy are highly favorable. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 39 percent increase in positions between 2010 and 2020, more than double the growth for most jobs. Medical advances and the graying of the population both contribute to the demand. The average annual income of physical therapists was $81,110 as of 2012, and 10 percent earned $112,020, reports the BLS.