What Education is Needed to Become a Physical Therapist?

Considering a career in physical therapy? Learn about the education and training requirements, as well as job outlook and salary information.

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Education

The education necessary to become a licensed physical therapist (PT) typically includes completing a 4-year degree from an accredited PT program followed by passing a state-administered licensure exam. Although a PT may have a bachelor’s degree, many have a master’s degree or doctorate in physical therapy.

Physical therapy programs

Most physical therapy programs leading to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree are 3 years long. Programs may offer a 3-year track for students with an undergraduate degree in another field and a 2-year track for students with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy.

To be eligible to apply to PT school, you will need:
• A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. PT school admissions committees prefer applicants who have majored in a science, such as biology, chemistry, or physics. However, you can major in any subject as long as you have completed required prerequisite courses, which vary by school.
• Volunteer or paid work experience in a physical therapy setting (ideally 100 hours or more). This will help you decide if PT is the right career for you and give you an idea of what the job entails on a day-to-day basis. It will also demonstrate to admissions committees that you understand what the profession is about and that you are committed to becoming a PT.
• Letters of recommendation from health care professionals, preferably PTs, and/or professors. These letters can attest to your character, work ethic, and academic ability.
• Completed prerequisite courses, which may include anatomy and physiology, physics, psychology, math, statistics, English composition and literature, and social sciences such as economics or sociology. The specific prerequisites vary by PT program but are generally available at most colleges and universities. Check with individual programs for specific requirements

Course requirements

In order to become a physical therapist, you will need to complete a 4-year degree in physical therapy from an accredited university. After completing your degree, you will need to pass a state-administered physical therapy licensing exam.

Certification

In order to become licensed as a physical therapist, candidates must graduate from an accredited physical therapy program and pass a state-administered examination. The most common credential for physical therapists is the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.

Licensure

Most states require physical therapists to be licensed. Requirements vary by state, but all states require candidates to have completed an accredited physical therapy education program and to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). Some states have additional requirements, such as passing an ethics exam or a jurisprudence exam. Once licensed, physical therapists need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain their license.

Certification

There are many Therapy job positions across the globe. A recent survey showed that there were over 2 million Therapy job positions available in over 20 countries. The most common position was for Physical Therapist Assistants, followed by Registered Massage Therapists, and then Physical Therapists.

The vast majority of these positions were located in the United States, with Canada coming in second, and then the United Kingdom. There are many other countries with a significant number of Therapy job openings as well, such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Germany.

To become a Physical Therapist, you will need to have completed a 4-year degree from an accredited university, as well as have completed a minimum of 2 years of post-graduate clinical experience. After this, you will be required to pass a national physical therapy examination before you can practice independently.

Employment

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of physical therapists will grow by 22% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is due to an aging population and increasing demand for PT services.

Employment outlook

The employment outlook for physical therapists is very positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in this field will grow by 28% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is driven by the aging baby boomer population, who will need PT services to recover from accidents and injuries, and the increasing number of people with chronic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

Salary

In May 2018, the median annual wage for physical therapists was $87,930. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $60,170, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $122,320.

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