Physical therapists assist individuals who have been injured or are ill to manage their pain, recover their range of motion, and return to their optimal level of functioning.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected a 17% growth in physical therapist job opportunities from 2021 to 2031, which is considerably faster than the average rate for all occupations . If you are interested in a healthcare profession that is in high demand and pays well, a career as a physical therapist is worth considering.
Becoming a licensed physical therapist requires several years of education, the development of a variety of skills, and the attainment of both national and state licensure.
In this blog post, we have outlined six steps to help you begin your journey toward becoming a licensed physical therapist, along with other considerations to keep in mind.
The Importance Of Physical Therapy In The Healthcare Industry
Physical therapists specialize in enhancing movement, reducing impairment levels, removing activity limitations, and increasing patient participation.
They work with individuals of all ages and abilities to improve, restore, and maintain mobility.
Here Are The Major Roles Of Physical Therapy In The Healthcare Industry:
1. Establishing Interprofessional Collaborative Healthcare Philosophy:
Physical therapists play a crucial role in creating a philosophy of interprofessional collaborative healthcare focusing on prevention and wellness.
2. Engaging All Healthcare Team Members:
Physical therapists actively engage with all healthcare team members by valuing their contributions, respecting other healthcare professionals’ roles, and sharing the responsibility for collaborative patient care.
3. Directing Patient Care:
Physical therapists diagnose and manage movement system disorders and dysfunction as integral healthcare team members.
4. Collaborating with Other Healthcare Professionals
Physical therapists collaborate with other healthcare professionals in interprofessional planning, decision-making, and outcome determination for patients and clients.
5. Communicating Professionalism And Specialties
Physical therapists communicate their knowledge, skills, and professionalism to all healthcare professionals, including the eight advanced specialty areas of physical therapy practice.
6. Contributing To Quality Research
Physical therapists identify professionals who can contribute to quality research, outcomes assessment, quality of life issues, and cost-benefit relationships of specific interventions.
7. Responding To Patient Needs
Physical therapists respond to movement system disorder diagnosis and/or treatment requests before and after medical intervention(s), surgery, and other disease management procedures where movement system disorders can affect treatment outcomes.
8. Referring Patients For Consultation
Physical therapists refer patients for consultation to other health professionals based on patient or client history and physical examination findings of possible systemic disease, disorder, or dysfunction.
9. Providing Patient Education
Physical therapists educate patients and healthcare professionals about exercise, activity, and movement for disease and dysfunction prevention and to maintain overall health and quality of life.
Where Physical Therapists Work
The physical therapy profession requires working in various settings and treating patients of different ages with different chronic conditions. This provides a broad range of options and opportunities for physical therapists to start their practice.
Where a Physical therapist’s work includes:
- outpatient clinics
- Sports training and fitness centers
- inpatient rehabilitation facilities
- nursing and extended care facilities
- patient homes
- schools, education centers,
- virtual environments.
Starting private practices is an option for those who prefer independence and entrepreneurship.
Alternatively, physical therapists may pursue a leadership role in healthcare or work in an existing office with other therapists, starting as a physical therapist assistant.
Visit ChoosePT.com, the American Physical Therapy Association’s official consumer information website, for additional information on the advantages of physical therapy (APTA).
Steps To Become A Physical Therapist
Whether you are a high school or college student, selecting a graduate school that provides a comprehensive Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program is a crucial step toward your goal of becoming a practitioner.
- Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in a relevant field.
- Step 2: Finish a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree Program
- Step 3: Successfully pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
- Step 4: Acquire a license to practice physical therapy.
- Step 5: Optional – Complete a Residency Program
- Step 6: Optional – Earn Board Certification
Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in a relevant field.
Generally, anyone interested in a career in physical therapy should have a bachelor’s degree in a health science, exercise science, or sports-related subject.
Specific physical therapy graduate programs may additionally need particular prerequisite courses in physics, kinesiology, biology, chemistry, physiology, and human anatomy.
It is recommended that you examine the exact requirements for the Ph.D. degree program you are interested in and ensure that you finish the needed courses.
Step 2: Complete A Doctor Of Physical Therapy Degree Program
To become a physical therapist, students must enroll in and complete an accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. These programs typically begin with anatomy, biomechanics, imaging, and pathophysiology courses.
During their second year, physical therapy students participate in hands-on rotations supervised by a clinical instructor, often as part of a white coat ceremony.
Some physical therapy schools also offer innovative components, such as simulation centers, where students can practice clinical interactions with mock patients before entering the clinic.
One example is the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, which has state-of-the-art simulation centers on each of its five campuses.
Step 3: Successfully Pass The National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
To obtain a physical therapist license, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).
The test is computer-based and comprises 250 multiple-choice questions across five sections. The grading is on a scale of 200–800, with a passing score of 600 or more.
The NPTE is conducted four times annually: in January, April, July, and October. Candidates can take the exam up to three times a year. In 2019, 91% of first-time candidates who graduated from U.S.-accredited PT programs passed the NPTE, according to the FSBPT’s NPTE Exam Year Reports.
Step 4: Acquire A License To Practice Physical Therapy
Each state has its own requirements for licensure in physical therapy. In addition to passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), many states require practitioners to complete compliance training, undergo background checks, and fulfill other criteria.
To maintain licensure, physical therapists usually need to complete continuing education courses every two years. These courses help them stay up-to-date with the latest standards and trends in the healthcare profession.
As a licensed physical therapist, you may want to pursue a residency or fellowship program to develop your skills further. Alternatively, you can become board certified in a specific area of focus.
Step 5: Optional – Complete A Residency Program
A clinical residency program is created for those who have finished their undergraduate education and want extra training and clinical experience in their field of interest.
This sort of curriculum is very advantageous for people who want to concentrate on a particular area of practice. Physical therapy fellowship programs are also available for people wishing to further their education in this sector.
Step 6: Optional – Earn Board Certification
After obtaining a license and gaining work experience, physical therapists can pursue board certification as clinical specialists through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS).
- There are ten specialty areas within physical therapy:
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary
- Clinical Electrophysiology,
- Geriatrics, Neurology
- Oncology, Orthopedics
- Pediatrics, Sports
- Wound Management
- Women’s Health.
To achieve board certification, applicants must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, complete an American Physical Therapy Association-accredited residency program, or have at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience.
Additional requirements may apply to students pursuing certification in specific specialty areas.
Education And Training
To qualify as a physical therapist, you must obtain a bachelor’s, doctoral program, or doctoral degree
from a recognized physical therapy program. During your studies, you will take courses such as
- exercise physiology,
Practical experience is also a significant aspect of your education in this field. Therefore, it is essential to consider the clinical experience requirements when selecting a program.
Some DPT programs may require 38 weeks of clinical practice, while others may need more.
Physical Therapy Program Requirements
Physical therapy is a branch of medicine that focuses on the treatment and prevention of physical impairments and disabilities.
Physical therapy programs are meant to prepare students to become licensed physical therapists by providing the required information and skills.
If you want to be a physical therapist, here are some program criteria you should be aware of:
1. Educational Requirements
A bachelor’s degree is often required for entrance to a physical therapy program. Several schools, however, require candidates to have a master’s degree in a relevant subject or a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT).
2. Prerequisite Coursework
Prerequisite coursework is frequently required for applicants to physical therapy schools. Anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology may be included in this study.
3. Observation Times
Several physical therapy schools require candidates to acquire a specified number of hours of observation in a physical therapy facility. As a result, prospective students may receive hands-on experience and a better grasp of the field.
4. GRE Results
Many physical therapy schools ask candidates to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and submit their results as part of the admissions process.
5. Recommendation Letters
Applicants to physical therapy schools often must provide letters of reference from someone who can speak to their academic and professional achievements.
6. Personal Assertion
Candidates are frequently expected to submit a personal statement or essay outlining why they want to be a physical therapist and how they feel the program will help them reach their objectives.
7. Clinical Training
Clinical education is commonly included in physical therapy schools, allowing students to acquire real-world experience dealing with patients in various environments.
8. Licensure Exams
Students must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) after graduating from a physical therapy school to work as a physical therapist.
Bachelor’s Degree Prerequisites For PT Program Admission
You do not need a particular undergraduate major to apply for a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Nevertheless, many DPT students major in subjects like exercise science, biology, kinesiology, and psychology.
While selecting a college major, ensure that you satisfy the necessary courses for your selected DPT program and the institution’s or university’s degree and major requirements.
It is advised that you engage with an academic adviser or a pre-PT advisor to design your course schedule.
Required Courses Before Applying To PT School
You can check the PTCAS directory or the school’s website to know the required courses for each institution.
DPT programs may require pre-professional science courses completed within the past 7–10 years before enrollment in a four-year university or college.
Ensure you know which classes you have taken or will take to fulfill the program’s requirements.
The Most Common Required Course Prerequisites Include The following:
- Anatomy/A&P 1 with lab
- Physiology/A&P 2 with lab
- Biology 1
- Biology 2
- General Chemistry 1 with Lab
- General Chemistry 2, with Lab
- General Physics 1 with Lab
- General Physics 2 with Lab
It is important to note that some DPT programs only accept anatomy and physiology courses completed in specific departments, like biology, neuroscience, anatomy, or integrated physiology.
Some programs, like kinesiology, may not accept combined A&P courses or those taken in other departments. To know which anatomy and physiology courses are required, refer to the PTCAS directory.
Minimum GPA Requirements
DPT programs typically require a minimum grade point average for admission, but this requirement may vary by institution. These minimum scores may be lower than the average GPA of accepted applicants.
Additionally, most DPT programs require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
The acceptable minimum scores and test dates may differ between programs. Each institution also has its own policy regarding considering multiple GRE scores.
Letters Of Recommendation
Applicants to physical therapy schools are sometimes expected to provide letters of recommendation from people who can speak to their academic and professional accomplishments.
Physical Therapy Program Curriculum
The DPT program curriculum includes hands-on instruction with standardized patients. This permits students to combine fundamental, behavioral, and clinical sciences knowledge with professional practice standards.
Moreover, the curriculum requires 34 weeks of full-time internship experience in a local, national, or international setting.
The tables below show the physical therapy curriculum’s classroom courses and study programs.
Fall (1) Semester (1) Program of Study
Foundations of Examination
Foundations of Interventions
Professional Issues in Physical Therapy Health Care Management I
Clinical Conference I
Spring (1) Semester (2) Program of Study
Therapeutic Exercise Modalities
Teaching in Physical Therapy Practice
Neuroscience in Rehabilitation I
Research in Practice
Clinical Conference II
Integrated Clinical Experience I
Movement Science I
Summer (1) Semester (3) Program of Study
Movement Science II
Neuroscience in Rehabilitation II
Clinical Medicine in Pharmacology
Clinical Conference III
Interprofessional Community Practicum
Fall (2) Semester (4) Program of Study
Management of Musculoskeletal Dysfunction
Management of Neuromotor Dysfunction
Prosthetics and Orthotics
Clinical Conference IV
Integrated Clinical Experience II
Spring (2) Semester (5) Program of Study
Management of Musculoskeletal Dysfunction II
Management of the Pediatric Client
Management of the Aging Adult
Management of Cardiopulmonary Dysfunction
Management of Integumentary Dysfunction
Clinical Conference V
Summer (2) Semester (6) Program of Study
Clinical Education Experience I
Clinical Conference VI
Fall (3) Semester (7) Program of Study
Clinical Education Experience II
Professional Issues in Physical Therapy Health Care Management II
Health Promotion and Wellness
Spring (3) Semester (8) Program of Study
Clinical Education Experience III
Length Of The Program
The DPT program is an eight-semester program that begins in the fall of Year I and ends in the spring of Year III. It consists of 109 coursework credits covering foundational, behavioral, and clinical sciences.
During the program, students learn how to manage patients with musculoskeletal, neuromotor, cardiopulmonary, and integumentary dysfunctions.
The curriculum also explores legal and ethical aspects of patient care, communication, health promotion, policy, and practice management.
Physical Therapy License Requirements
Physical therapy licensure requirements differ from state to state but usually include passing the National Physical Therapy Exam and finishing an accredited physical therapy program.
Some states may also ask for board certification, residency, or clinical experience in a specialty area. Physical therapists should also possess qualities such as empathy, effective communication skills, and physical stamina.
Becoming a licensed physical therapist requires obtaining a bachelor’s degree and completing the necessary prerequisite courses. Admission to physical therapy programs is highly competitive, often requiring a cumulative GPA of 3.32 or higher.
A strong academic background and high grades are crucial for success, with many programs requiring a minimum GPA of 3.0 and minimum grades of B- or C for prerequisite courses.
In addition to academic performance, other important factors that may be considered include:
- Complete 40 to 300 hours of observation in at least two different physical therapy (PT) settings.
- Write a one-page essay explaining their motivations for choosing the field and their readiness for it.
- Obtain up to four strong letters of recommendation.
- Submit Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores.
- Apply to DPT programs during the summer/fall after their junior year.
Applicants must fulfill specific prerequisites, along with a bachelor’s degree, to be eligible for admission.
Clinical Experience Requirements
Physical therapy clinical experience requirements in the United States vary based on the state and kind of physical therapy school you are enrolled in.
Before students graduate and become licensed physical therapists, most physical therapy schools require them to complete a specified number of clinical hours. Depending on the curriculum, the number of clinical hours needed might vary from 600 to 1500.
During these practical experiences, students work in a range of healthcare settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, and rehabilitation facilities, under the supervision of certified physical therapists. They may deal with people of various ages and with a wide range of medical issues.
Physical therapy graduates must complete a specified number of clinical hours and those necessary as part of their academic degree to be licensed in their state. These requirements also vary by state but commonly range from 1000 to 2000 hours.
State Licensure Requirements
Each state’s licensing board specifies physical therapy license standards in the United States; therefore, particular criteria may differ from state to state. Yet there are specific standard rules that most nations must follow.
In order to become a licensed physical therapist in the United States, you must typically:
1. Obtain A Physical Therapy Degree From An Accredited Program:
Completing a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree program is generally required, while certain states may accept a Master’s degree in physical therapy.
2. Pass The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE):
This is a rigorous test that evaluates your physical therapy knowledge and abilities. To be eligible for licensing, you must pass this test.
3. Fulfill Other State-Specific Requirements:
In addition to obtaining a degree and passing the NPTE, your state’s licensing board may impose additional requirements. Completing a specified amount of clinical hours, passing a jurisprudence test, or submitting to a criminal background check are examples of such requirements.
You may apply for licensing in your state after you have satisfied all of these prerequisites. Once certified, you must generally complete continuing education requirements to keep your license and remain current with changes in the profession of physical therapy.
National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)
The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) is a standardized test used in the United States to evaluate the abilities of those who want to work as physical therapists (PTs) or physical therapist assistants (PTAs).
The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) administers the NPTE, which is utilized as part of the licensing requirements for PTs and PTAs in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
The test is intended to assess the entry-level knowledge and abilities necessary for safe and successful physical therapy practice. It comprises multiple-choice questions on patient care, examination, assessment, diagnosis, prognosis, intervention, results, and professional accountability.
Candidates must have graduated from an authorized physical therapy or physical therapist assistant school and have met any additional criteria imposed by their state licensing board in order to be eligible to take the NPTE. Passing the NPTE is an essential step in becoming a licensed PT or PTA in the United States.
Specializations And Career Opportunities In Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is a healthcare profession that focuses on restoring mobility and function to people who have been injured, sick, or disabled. Physical therapists work with patients to identify, treat, and prevent movement issues and help them accomplish their physical function and mobility objectives.
Types Of Physical Therapists And Specializations:
Physical therapy has many specialties that enable experts to specialize in certain aspects of the discipline. Following are some examples of physical therapy specializations:
1. Sports Physical Therapy
This specialty focuses on treating and preventing injuries connected to sports and athletic activity.
2. Neurological Physical Therapy
This specialty focuses on treating patients who have neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and multiple sclerosis.
3. Pediatric Physical Therapy
This specialty focuses on helping children who have mobility problems or limitations.
4. Orthopedic Physical Therapy
This specialty focuses on musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis, joint replacements, and fractures.
5. Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy
This specialty focuses on treating patients with cardiovascular and respiratory disorders, such as COPD and heart disease.
Career Opportunities in Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is a growing profession with several employment options. Following are some examples of physical therapy job paths:
Physical Therapist Assistant: A physical therapist assistant provides patients with physical therapy services while working under the supervision of a physical therapist.
Sports Physical Therapist
A sports physical therapist works with athletes to prevent and cure injuries connected to sports and athletic activities.
Pediatric Physical Therapist
A pediatric physical therapist deals with children who have mobility abnormalities or limitations.
Geriatric Physical Therapist: A geriatric physical therapist works with older people to enhance their mobility and function.
A rehabilitation expert works with patients who are recovering from accidents or diseases to help them restore physical function.
A clinical specialist is a physical therapist with advanced training and skill in a particular field of physical therapy.
Generally, physical therapy is a fulfilling vocation with various specialties and career options. As the population ages and the need for healthcare services rises, so will the demand for physical therapists.
As you have seen, specific requirements to become a physical therapist include academic requirements, various skills, courses, programs, and national and state licensure. So, if you are interested in becoming a licensed physical therapist, ensure that you obtain the relevant degree, program, etc.
Physical therapist jobs are in high demand. If you are interested in a healthcare profession that is in high demand and pays well, you might choose a career as a physical therapist.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How Long Does It Take To Become A Physical Therapist?
To become a physical therapist, you must complete a bachelor’s degree, ideally in health science, from an accredited institution, which usually takes 3–4 years. Afterward, enroll in a 3–4-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. The entire process takes anywhere from 3–8 years, depending on your educational background.
How Much Do Physical Therapists Make?
In general, the salary of a NAPT in the United States varies based on so many factors, such as experience level, certifications, location, and the industry you are working in,
Based on the recent update by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a physical therapist’s annual salary ranges from $89,000 to $92,00. The median salary of less experienced therapists is between $63,000 and $70,000
Are Physical Therapists In High Demand?
Yes, physical therapists are in high demand globally in the United States and other regions.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment outlook for physical therapists from 2020 to 2030 shows a projected growth of 18 percent, which is much faster than the average for all careers.
This momentum is predominantly due to a maturing population that necessitates rehabilitation and comparable services provided by physical therapists.
Is Physical Therapy A Lot Of Math
Physical therapy does need some fundamental arithmetic abilities, such as calculating doses and measures, but it is not a math-intensive career.
Physical therapy is mainly concerned with diagnosing and treating movement and function impairments, which requires a thorough knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics.
Physical therapists utilize this information to create treatment plans specific to each patient’s requirements and objectives, concentrating on exercises, manual therapy, and other treatments that promote healing, mobility, and pain reduction.
Is Physical Therapy A Stressful Job
Physical therapy is a rigorous and sometimes stressful career, much like any other healthcare profession. Physical therapists must be able to show compassion while maintaining focus on treatment objectives since they deal with patients who may be in pain, have mobility issues, or have other health conditions.
Physical therapists may also put in lengthy hours of labor, particularly in hospitals or busy clinical environments where patients may need round-the-clock care. Physical therapists may also have to deal with time-consuming administrative and bureaucratic procedures that increase their burden.