Physical therapy is a profession that requires individuals to have extensive knowledge in health, anatomy and physiology. Many aspiring physical therapists often ask themselves – How hard is physical therapy school? The answer is not straightforward.
To begin with, physical therapy students are expected to complete extensive coursework in subjects such as biology, physics, chemistry, and psychology before entering their respective programs. Once enrolled, they undergo rigorous training for at least three years of doctoral study before earning their degree. You’ll learn about the body’s complex mechanism and how to assess damaged muscles, bones or tendons.
The curricula combine theoretical concepts with practical applications through clinical internships, research work, and exams. Physical therapy students must be ready to commit much time and energy studying and practicing various treatment techniques.
Despite the challenges, graduating from a physical therapy program can lead you down a rewarding career path. As you advance your education and build on your skills, you’ll help patients recover from injuries, surgeries and improve their mobility. Most importantly, knowing what to expect will equip you with the best strategies to achieve success during your studies.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” -Steve Jobs
If you’re passionate about healthcare and helping people live better lives, read on to discover more truths about physical therapy school and what it takes to succeed in this field.
Physical Therapy School Requires Extensive Knowledge and Skills
Physical therapy school is challenging, and it requires extensive knowledge and skills. To be a physical therapist, you must have a strong foundation in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, neuroscience, pathology, pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, and rehabilitation. You also need excellent communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.
Understanding Anatomy and Physiology is Crucial
One of the most crucial elements of physical therapy school is understanding anatomy and physiology. As a physical therapist, you will work with patients who have various musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiopulmonary, and integumentary conditions, which require a thorough understanding of human anatomy and how different body systems function. You will learn about muscles, joints, bones, nerves, blood vessels, organs, and tissues, and how they interact to form the human body.
Additionally, you will study the physiological changes that occur in response to injuries, illnesses, or surgeries, such as inflammation, edema, pain, muscle weakness, atrophy, spasticity, contracture, and scar tissue formation. This knowledge will enable you to develop personalized treatment plans for each patient based on their specific needs, goals, and medical histories.
“Anatomy is to physiology as geography is to history; it describes the theatre of events.” – Jean Fernel
Developing Communication Skills is Essential
Effective communication is essential in physical therapy because it facilitates collaboration between the therapist, patient, family members, and other healthcare professionals. Patients may be experiencing pain, discomfort, anxiety, depression, fear, or frustration, which can affect their ability to communicate their symptoms, preferences, or concerns accurately. Therefore, physical therapists must possess excellent verbal, nonverbal, and written communication skills to facilitate open dialogue, active listening, empathy, and mutual understanding.
Communication also is critical when explaining medical information, treatment options, risks, benefits, and expected outcomes to patients and their families. This requires the ability to translate complex medical jargon into simple terms that patients can comprehend easily. Furthermore, physical therapists must document patient progress accurately using electronic medical records (EMRs), which require concise, comprehensive, factual, and timely entries.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter Drucker
Physical therapy school is hard because it demands extensive knowledge and skills related to anatomy, physiology, communication, rehabilitation, health care delivery, ethics, and professionalism. However, with dedication, motivation, and perseverance, you can become a competent and compassionate physical therapist who makes a positive difference in people’s lives every day.
Physical Therapy School Curriculum is Rigorous and Demanding
Physical therapy, also known as PT, is a healthcare profession that focuses on the development of optimal physical function. It involves treating individuals who have suffered from illnesses, injuries, or disabilities.
Becoming a physical therapist requires a lot of hard work and dedication. The curriculum is rigorous and demanding. Students can expect to spend long hours studying, learning hands-on skills in clinical settings, and conducting research.
The coursework required for physical therapy school includes anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, neuroscience, pathology, pharmacology, biomechanics, therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, and more. In addition to classroom lectures, students are expected to participate in laboratory sessions, internships, and clinical rotations.
The average length of time it takes to complete physical therapy school is 3 years, with an additional year for those interested in pursuing a residency program. During this time, students must pass multiple exams, including the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is required for licensure.
Mastering Rehabilitation Techniques Takes Time and Practice
One of the most challenging aspects of physical therapy school is mastering rehabilitation techniques. These techniques include exercises, stretches, and other forms of treatment that help patients regain their range of motion, strength, and flexibility.
While some skills may be learned in the classroom, much of physical therapy education happens through hands-on experience gained during clinical rotations and internships. This allows students to practice under the supervision of licensed physical therapists and gain exposure to a variety of patient populations and diagnoses.
Learning how to properly assess, diagnose, and treat patients requiring physical therapy is a significant responsibility, one that requires both book knowledge and practical experience.
Learning How to Conduct Research is Challenging
In addition to mastering rehabilitation techniques, physical therapy students must also learn how to conduct research. This is a critical component of their education as it allows them to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment methods and develop new insights into ways to improve patient outcomes.
For many students, learning how to conduct research can be daunting and challenging. It requires not only an understanding of statistics but also the ability to design experiments and analyze data appropriately.
Furthermore, conducting research often takes place in conjunction with other coursework, such as clinical rotations or internships. Balancing these various demands on time and energy can add another layer of complexity to an already demanding program.
“Physical therapy school is like being back in undergrad, except harder because you have more lab work and when you make a mistake with patients during clinicals it can literally hurt someone.” -Student Doctor Network
Physical therapy school is rigorous and demanding, both academically and practically. However, for those who are passionate about helping others achieve optimal physical function, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Becoming a licensed physical therapist requires hard work, dedication, and perseverance – but the impact that trained professionals can have on improving people’s lives is immeasurable.
Physical Therapy School Requires Long Hours of Studying and Practice
Being a physical therapist is no easy feat. A physical therapist helps patients recover from injuries, surgeries, and illnesses by developing personalized treatment plans to help them regain mobility, strength, and flexibility. However, before becoming a licensed physical therapist, individuals must complete rigorous coursework to earn their Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. This means dedicating long hours of studying and practice in physical therapy school.
Attending Lectures and Labs is Time-Consuming
The first challenge most physical therapy students encounter is the amount of time they need to spend attending lectures and labs. DPT programs usually take three years to complete, with students taking courses in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, pharmacology, and more. According to DoctorOz.com, “most DPT programs require full-time attendance for three years,” which can be daunting for many students who are juggling multiple responsibilities such as work or family obligations.
To succeed in this program, physical therapy students must prioritize their studies. By setting expectations for themselves, seeking academic support when needed, and managing their schedules well, students can ensure that they stay on track to graduation without compromising other aspects of their lives.
Completing Clinical Rotations is Exhausting
In addition to classroom instruction, physical therapy students must also complete clinical rotations where they gain hands-on experience working with real patients under the guidance of licensed physical therapists. These rotations present unique challenges for students because they require spending extended periods performing job-related tasks, including lifting heavy equipment and assisting patients with transfers. Additionally, since these experiences happen outside of class hours, some students may have to adapt to unconventional schedules and travel long distances for rotations.
“Clinical education experiences are often exhausting, stressful and demanding. Students must adapt to new settings, clinicians, patients, and practice styles. The amount of time spent in clinical experiences may take students away from their families, with some students leaving spouses or children for an extended period.” -American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)
While challenging, the purpose of these rotations is to provide physical therapy students with practical knowledge they can apply later as licensed physical therapists. By recognizing that this phase of education is temporary and putting in the effort required, students will emerge well-rounded, confident professionals who have seen a range of cases and challenges.
Studying for Exams Requires Dedication and Focus
To earn their DPT degree, physical therapy students must pass multiple exams throughout their coursework. This includes written class tests, national board exams, and hands-on assessments where they demonstrate their skills on human subjects. According to Medical News Today, “students enrolled in a DPT program will need to become proficient in anatomy, pharmacology, movement science, musculoskeletal and neurological rehabilitation, assistive devices, and other areas,” making each exam extremely comprehensive and rigorous.
Studying can be particularly challenging for physical therapists because much of what they learn is hands-on and requires a real-life application. The approach to studying in lectures and labs does not always work when it comes to practicing real-world scenarios. Students may need to practice specific techniques repeatedly until they feel comfortable working with actual patients under supervision.
Practicing Skills Outside of Class is Essential
Beyond attending classes and clinical rotations, physical therapy students must also dedicate plenty of time outside of school to develop their skills and increase their knowledge base. There are many resources available online, such as videos and virtual simulators, which allow students to hone their craft without needing to physically interact with patients.
Many students also find it helpful to connect with their peers and form study groups. This group dynamic allows them to learn from each other’s experiences, share tips for success, and work together towards a common goal of obtaining their DPT degree and becoming licensed physical therapists.
“Studying in physical therapy school is like running a marathon. It requires endurance and patience, but the reward at the end is well worth it.” -University of Washington
Physical therapy school is not easy. However, through time management, dedication, and willingness to adapt, individuals who embark on this journey can come out competent professionals ready to make a difference in their communities. The challenges they encounter will only prepare them for the various obstacles that may arise in their future careers, making every hurdle a valuable learning experience.
Physical Therapy School is Competitive and Selective
Becoming a physical therapist requires extensive training, and the path to achieving your dreams of working in this field involves rigorous education. Physical therapy schools are competitive and selective, so it’s essential to approach your application with focus and dedication.
While specific admission requirements vary from school to school, most programs require a bachelor’s degree before you begin your postgraduate studies. Most students will complete their undergraduate program by specializing in subjects such as anatomy, biology, exercise science or kinesiology.
Physical demands: Aspiring physical therapists must meet certain physical requirements to work in this field. They should have enough strength and dexterity to manipulate patients’ bodies and support weight, while also having good hand-eye coordination to administer precise movements.
Volunteer experience: Graduate-level programs look favorably upon candidates who have completed volunteer hours at rehabilitation clinics, hospitals, or long-term care facilities. This experience provides valuable insights into what it takes to be a reliable and compassionate caretaker.
GPA and Test Scores Play a Major Role in Admission Decisions
The competition for entry into these graduate programs can be intense, which means the stakes are high when it comes to things like grade point average (GPA) and test scores. Both factors play a critical role in determining whether or not an applicant gets selected for admission.
A great GPA shows that you’re dedicated, responsible, and academically aligned with the program’s standards. It demonstrates your ability to handle the academic rigors of the coursework ahead. You could help strengthen your standing within your desired physical therapy program by boosting your overall performance throughout your college career.
Most physical therapy schools require either GRE or MCAT results. These standardized tests are different, but their goal is the same: to measure a student’s aptitude and potential for success. If you have your eye on a particular program, make sure you check its requirements to ensure you’re prepared.
“Scores are an important part of telling schools who you are as a student,” says Dr. Kate Rejmanovski, CEO of OnSite Physio.“But they aren’t everything. Peer recommendations, experiences, motivation, grades in specific subjects related to physical therapy- everyone looks at those elements.”
Applicants Must Demonstrate Passion for the Field
The third essential element in gaining admission to graduate-level Physical Therapy School is displaying eagerness towards this field. This could mean you may need to participate in community service, volunteer work, or shadowing to develop hands-on experience. Additionally, highlighting research papers, presentations or conference meetings relevant to physical therapy will help enhance your efforts.
If volunteering opportunities or conferences are hard to find due to pandemic restrictions, there are also online programs that offer virtual shadowing as well as digital resources published by academic institutions as alternatives. Trying out these options is an excellent way to prove that you’ll be joining the profession with enthusiasm and are proactive in seeking methods to learn about the latest research and scientific advancements within the field.
“Admissions committees watch closely for passion, dedication, and commitment to the field,” says Dr. Miko Rose, DPT professor at Angelo State University.“You don’t necessarily have to heal everyone’s injuries overnight. Still, it would help if we saw confidence and excitement towards learning new techniques and methodologies”
Preparing your application to get into a Physical Therapy program can prove daunting, yet investing resources early on such as obtaining higher GPAs and in admission tests, gaining experience, or participating in research, to name a few examples can vastly increase your chances of getting accepted. Passion towards physical therapy is the key that ensures the committee sees you as having long-term prospects within this field.
Physical Therapy School Graduates Have High Job Satisfaction and Career Opportunities
Physical therapy school is notoriously difficult, but many graduates find the effort worth it once they start their careers. The field of physical therapy offers many job opportunities in various healthcare settings, along with high levels of job satisfaction.
Working with Patients Brings Fulfillment
A key reason why many physical therapy school graduates enjoy their jobs is due to the fulfillment that comes from working with patients. Physical therapists help people regain mobility, reduce pain, and improve their quality of life after injury or illness. Being able to make a tangible difference in someone’s life can be very rewarding.
According to a survey by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), nearly 90% of physical therapists find their work fulfilling. This may be one reason why many PTs work in the same specialty for several years, with some even staying in the field until retirement.
Diverse Job Opportunities Exist in Various Healthcare Settings
Another benefit of pursuing physical therapy as a career is the variety of job settings you can work in. Physical therapists can work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, private practices, nursing homes, schools, sports teams, and more.
Younger physical therapy professionals also have options when it comes to how they practice. While traditional outpatient physical therapy involves treating patients one-on-one, newer models like telehealth have emerged. Telehealth allows physical therapists to work remotely with patients through video conferencing.
In addition, physical therapy is a growing industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of physical therapists will grow by 18% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than average for all occupations.
Continuing Education Keeps Graduates Up-to-Date on Industry Changes
The field of physical therapy is constantly evolving, with new treatment modalities and technology emerging all the time. Physical therapy school graduates must stay up-to-date on industry changes to provide the best care for their patients.
To keep their skills current, many physical therapists participate in continuing education courses or workshops. These opportunities are common at hospitals, clinics, and conferences, and can help professionals sharpen their skills and learn about emerging trends in the field. Some states even require physical therapists to complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year to maintain licensure.
“Physical therapy has given me not only a rewarding career but also mission and direction. I wanted wellness and health in my own life and was willing to work hard for it. Once I found that through physical therapy, I knew others could benefit as well. Each day working with people, from ages 1-101, reminds me why I love what I do.” -Erin Whitehead, PT, DPT
While physical therapy school may be challenging, the rewards and job satisfaction associated with this career make it a great option for students interested in healthcare.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the prerequisites for physical therapy school?
Prerequisites for physical therapy school vary depending on the program. Generally, a bachelor’s degree is required, and courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology are recommended. Some programs may also require specific courses in statistics, medical terminology, or healthcare ethics. Volunteer or work experience in a healthcare setting is also often recommended. Additionally, applicants must take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and submit letters of recommendation and a personal statement.
How long does it take to complete physical therapy school?
Physical therapy school typically takes three years to complete, although some programs may be shorter or longer. The first year of the program usually focuses on foundational coursework, while the second and third years focus on clinical rotations and more specialized coursework. Students must also complete a certain number of clinical hours to graduate. After graduation, students must pass a licensure exam to become a licensed physical therapist.
What is the curriculum like in physical therapy school?
The curriculum in physical therapy school includes coursework in anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience, and exercise science. Students also learn about examination and evaluation, diagnosis, and intervention techniques for a variety of musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and cardiopulmonary conditions. In addition to classroom learning, students participate in clinical rotations to gain hands-on experience. Some programs also offer elective courses in specialized areas of physical therapy.
What kind of exams are required in physical therapy school?
Physical therapy students must take multiple exams throughout their education. In addition to the GRE, students must take exams specific to physical therapy, such as the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is required for licensure. Some programs may also require exams at different points in the program to ensure students are meeting educational standards. Students must pass these exams in order to graduate and become licensed physical therapists.
What is the job outlook for physical therapists after graduation?
The job outlook for physical therapists is strong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 18% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. This is due to an aging population and increased demand for physical therapy services. Physical therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, and nursing homes. The median annual wage for physical therapists was $89,440 in May 2019.