Physical therapy is a challenging and rewarding profession that involves helping people improve their movement, function, and quality of life. If you are interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy, you may be wondering how many years it takes to become a licensed therapist.
The process of becoming a physical therapist typically requires several years of education and training, as well as hands-on clinical experience. Depending on your educational background, the type of degree program you choose, and other factors, the path to becoming a licensed PT can vary.
In this ultimate guide, we will explore the different steps you need to take to become a physical therapist, including the required education, licensure exams, and practical components of the profession. You will learn about undergraduate prerequisites, graduate-level programs, and options for specialized certification or post-graduate study.
“The journey to becoming a physical therapist requires dedication, perseverance, and a passion for helping others.”
We will also provide insights from experienced physical therapists, advice on how to succeed in school and beyond, and resources for finding job opportunities and continuing education. Whether you are just starting out on your path to becoming a physical therapist or considering a career change, this guide has everything you need to know to make informed decisions and achieve your goals.
Understanding the Education Requirements for Physical Therapists
If you are passionate about healthcare and helping people to recover from injuries, physical therapy can be a rewarding career option. However, before pursuing this profession, it’s essential to understand the education requirements for physical therapists.
Undergraduate Education Requirements
The first step towards becoming a physical therapist is completing an undergraduate degree in biology, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, or any other equivalent program in science-related fields. The majority of programs require candidates to possess a high school diploma, with some institutions necessitating additional prerequisites such as physics, chemistry, and calculus.
It typically takes up to four years to complete an undergraduate degree, depending on the program’s type and level. During their undergraduate program, students learn critical aspects of human anatomy, musculoskeletal function, neuroanatomy, pharmacology, therapeutic exercise, orthopedics, and biomechanics which are foundational knowledge that assists them while qualifying for graduate work.
Graduate Education Requirements
After completing a bachelor’s degree, prospective physical therapists need to acquire a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited institution. It usually takes 3 years to accomplish this rigorous graduate program, though part-time options may take longer.
The DPT curriculum equips students with advanced skills, specialized knowledge, clinical reasoning, theories, techniques, patient management, research literacy, and ethics necessary for evaluating and treating patients’ impairments in movement function. Students also attend supervised clinical placements working alongside licensed practitioners, assisting in developing effective treatment plans for diverse patient populations while gaining valuable professional experience.
To practice as registered physical therapists in the United States, graduates must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE), administered by the Federation of State Boards Physical Therapy. The test assesses applicants’ competence in fundamental topics such as anatomy and physiology, musculoskeletal system function, clinical pathology, pharmacology, communication, ethics, and patient care skills.
Besides NPTE, candidates must comply with their state’s licensing requirements, which vary from one jurisdiction to another. Some states require graduates to complete continuing education courses periodically to maintain licensure and renew it over suitable intervals. Most states mandate malpractice insurance coverage, meet several health testing criteria, background checks, reference letters, among others.
“Physical therapists are crucial in helping patients to recover physically after an injury or illness.” -Galit Sacajiu, Spalding University
Becoming a physical therapist takes substantial time and effort, between 6-7 years of postsecondary studies. It entails completing an undergraduate degree in biological sciences or kinesiology, followed by acquiring a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) from an accredited institution. Graduates can apply for licensure through their respective state boards and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). With diligence, sacrifice, professionalism, and strong work ethic, aspiring physical therapists will have an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives and positively impact society.
Exploring the Different Paths to Becoming a Physical Therapist
Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Programs
A Doctor of Physical Therapy program is a three-year graduate program that prepares students for a career as a physical therapist. This type of program requires applicants to have completed an undergraduate degree in a related field like biology, exercise science or kinesiology. It’s important for aspiring physical therapists to research and choose an accredited DPT program that meets their goals and expectations.
During the program, students typically take courses in anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, biomechanics, neuroscience and more. They also participate in clinical internships where they gain hands-on experience treating patients under the supervision of licensed physical therapists. After completing the program, graduates must pass national and state licensing exams before they can practice legally as a physical therapist.
“Graduating from a CAPTE-accredited physical therapy program assures that you are armed with the tools and knowledge necessary to maximize your effectiveness as a PT and provide the best possible care to patients.” -American Physical Therapy Association
Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT) Programs
A Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program is designed to help practicing physical therapists earn a doctoral degree while continuing to work in the field. This type of program usually takes about one to two years to complete and can be done entirely online. tDPT programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physical therapy and possess current licensure as a physical therapist.
The courses offered in a tDPT program typically focus on advanced topics such as high-level diagnostic skills, evidence-based practices, healthcare administration, research methods and more. Students may also need to complete a capstone project or clinical residency before graduating. By earning a doctorate in physical therapy, practicing therapists can enhance their knowledge and skills and gain a competitive advantage when pursuing career advancement opportunities.
“tDPT programs provide an opportunity for physical therapists to improve clinical decision making, offer greater value-added professional service to clients, increase involvement with evidence-based practice and engage in life-long learning that improves job satisfaction.” -Physical Therapy Association of Washington
Both the DPT and tDPT paths are excellent options for those looking to become a physical therapist. Ultimately, it depends on the individual’s goals and current career status to decide which path is the best fit for them. Regardless of the chosen pathway, becoming a licensed physical therapist requires commitment to education and training and passing national and state licensing exams.
Factors That Can Affect the Time It Takes to Become a Physical Therapist
Undergraduate Degree Program
The initial step towards becoming a physical therapist is obtaining an undergraduate degree. Students have the option of pursuing any field while in college, provided they choose courses that are relevant for their intended goal. However, students completing degrees within related fields such as kinesiology or biology may have an easier time transitioning into graduate school for physical therapy.
The length of time it takes to complete the undergraduate program can also significantly affect how long it will take to become a physical therapist. Most bachelor’s programs last four years. However, some universities allow students to take advantage of combined programs which take fewer than 4 years, allowing them to obtain both the bachelor’s and graduate degree in less time.
“Completing prerequisite coursework in anatomy, physiology, biology, physics, and statistics before applying to PT school is typically necessary.” -American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)
Graduate Degree Program
After receiving an undergraduate education with approved classes under their belt, aspiring physical therapists must progress to a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) degree, which is required for licensure. Typically, this involves attending a graduate-level training program accredited by The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
DPTs require between two-and-a-half-to-three-year commitment; however, for those employed and seeking part-time schooling opportunities, some programs offer prolonged period completion options. Based primarily upon full- or part-time academic research, several institutions modify individual circumstances differently; thus, your duration could be shorter or longer depending on where you attend grad school.
“To become a licensed PT requires successfully graduating from a CAPTE-accredited DPT program, passing the National Physical Therapy Exam, and obtaining a state license.” -APTA
Some students choose to attend programs overseas or in different states in pursuit of pursuing admission into high-quality DPT programs. As each program varies regarding curriculum implemented along with entrance requirements, students need to ensure they maintain compliance with transferring coursework before applying to the specified program.
One significant factor that influences how long it will take someone before becoming licensed physical therapists is the competitiveness of programs. High-ranking programs often have many qualified candidates vying for limited spots making entry highly competitive.
“The population getting older, increase in sedentary lifestyle diseases, the common occurrence of bad posture due to technology usage among other medical conditions contribute to a higher demand for physical therapist healthcare professionals.” -PhysicalTherapist.comIn conclusion, several factors can influence the length of time required before prepping up as a licensed physical therapist. These include the undergraduate major one takes, availability of combined bachelor’s/master’s degree opportunities with the same fields, present status (eg., part-time vs. full-time student), the reputable graduate schools attended, accreditation by The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), USA location/transfer limitations when enrolling, and competition at various universities. With an estimated 214% employment growth rate predicted over this decade, investing towards any potential options becomes worthy of serious contemplation if you are considering PT as your career choice.
The Importance of Accreditation and Licensure for Physical Therapists
A physical therapist is a highly-skilled healthcare professional who plays an important role in helping people recover from injuries, illnesses, or surgeries that have affected their mobility. If you are interested in becoming a physical therapist, there are certain educational and licensing requirements that you must meet to practice legally.
Accreditation for Physical Therapy Programs
Physical therapy programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). The accreditation process ensures that physical therapy programs meet national standards in terms of curriculum, faculty, facilities, and resources. Attending an accredited physical therapy program is essential if you want to be eligible for licensure as a physical therapist.
To become a licensed physical therapist, you need to earn either a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree or a Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) degree, depending on your state’s licensing requirements. A DPT program typically takes three years to complete while an MPT takes two years. Some universities also offer combined undergraduate and graduate degrees, which can take up to six to seven years to complete.
“Attending an accredited physical therapy program is essential if you want to be eligible for licensure as a physical therapist.”
In addition to completing the required coursework, physical therapy students must also gain clinical experience through internships or supervised rotations. This hands-on training helps them develop the practical skills they will need to work with patients in a real-world setting.
Licensure for Physical Therapists
Licensure is a legal requirement for individuals practicing as physical therapists in the United States. Licensure requirements vary by state but usually involve the following steps:
- Graduate from an accredited physical therapy program
- Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)
- Obtain a state license to practice
The NPTE is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) and evaluates an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities in physical therapy. It consists of multiple-choice questions covering various areas of physical therapy, such as orthopedics, neurology, and pediatrics.
After obtaining a license, physical therapists are required to complete continuing education courses throughout their careers to maintain their licensure. Continuing education helps physical therapists stay up-to-date with advancements in their field and learn new skills that will enhance patient care.
“Licensure is a legal requirement for individuals practicing as physical therapists in the United States.”
In addition to meeting educational and licensing requirements, successful physical therapists possess certain qualities that enable them to provide high-quality care. These qualities include empathy, good communication skills, problem-solving ability, and an understanding of human anatomy and physiology.
If you are committed to pursuing a career as a physical therapist, it is essential to understand the importance of accreditation and licensure. Attending an accredited physical therapy program and obtaining a license will ensure that you have the necessary skills and knowledge to help patients recover from injuries and illnesses. It will also open doors to opportunities for advancement in your career.
Career Opportunities for Physical Therapists and their Potential Earnings
Career Opportunities in Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is a growing field with a diverse range of career opportunities. Some physical therapists may choose to work in hospitals or clinics, helping patients recovering from injuries or surgeries. Others may specialize in working with athletes to prevent and treat sports-related injuries. Pediatric physical therapy is another option, which involves helping children with developmental delays or disabilities.
One promising area of growth in the field is geriatric physical therapy, as an aging population seeks to maintain mobility and independence. Women’s health physical therapy is also becoming more common, as women seek help with pregnancy-related pain and other issues related to pelvic health.
In addition to traditional clinical settings, some physical therapists may work in research, education, or administration. They can also become private practice owners, providing one-on-one care to patients in their own office setting.
Potential Earnings for Physical Therapists
The potential earnings for physical therapists are influenced by several factors, including experience level, location, specialty, and type of employer. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for physical therapists in 2020 was $91,010.
Those just starting out in the field typically earn less than experienced physical therapists. However, as they gain years of experience, their earning potential increases. Physical therapists who specialize in certain areas, such as pediatrics or geriatrics, often command higher salaries due to their specialized skills and knowledge.
Location can also play a role in determining potential earnings. In general, physical therapists who work in urban areas tend to earn more than those in rural areas. Additionally, specific states may offer higher average salaries due to demand for physical therapists and cost of living.
The type of employer also influences potential earnings. Physical therapists who work in hospitals or outpatient clinics may earn a higher salary than those who work in nursing homes or home health settings. However, some physical therapists prefer the flexibility and autonomy that comes with owning their own private practice, which can potentially lead to higher earning potential.
“Physical therapists play an important role in helping people recover from injury, surgery, or other conditions that affect movement and function. As the population continues to age and demand for healthcare services grows, there will likely be plenty of opportunities for physical therapists.” – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Physical therapy is a rewarding career path with many options for growth and advancement. While starting salaries may be lower, experienced physical therapists can expect to earn a comfortable income, especially if they specialize in certain areas and live in urban areas or states with high average salaries.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the minimum educational requirement to become a physical therapist?
To become a physical therapist in the United States, you must have a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited program. This degree typically takes three years to complete after earning a bachelor’s degree.
How long does it take to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy program?
A Doctor of Physical Therapy program typically takes three years to complete, after earning a bachelor’s degree. Some programs offer a fast track option which can be completed in two and a half years.
Are there any prerequisites required to enroll in a physical therapy program?
Yes, there are prerequisites required to enroll in a physical therapy program. These may include courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology.
Yes, it is possible to become a physical therapist with a bachelor’s degree in a related field. However, you will need to complete the necessary prerequisites and earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited program.
Is there a difference in the education required to become a physical therapist assistant versus a physical therapist?
Yes, there is a difference in the education required to become a physical therapist assistant versus a physical therapist. Physical therapist assistants typically have an associate degree, which takes about two years to complete. Physical therapists require a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, which takes three years to complete.
What are the licensing requirements for physical therapists in different states?
Licensing requirements for physical therapists vary by state, but typically include earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited program, passing the National Physical Therapy Examination, and completing any state-specific requirements. Continuing education is also required to maintain a license in most states.