Physical therapists work with patients who have an illness or injury that requires rehabilitation. Through treatment, therapists help them manage their pain and improve their movement. Students enrolled in this type of program will take courses in human anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, motor control, pharmacology, research methods, and clinical practice. At the graduate level, students will likely have an area of particular interest to them that they will focus their studies around, such as sports rehabilitation or orthopedics, to name a few options.

Why a Doctorate?

In order to prepare for a career as a licensed physical therapist, you will need to obtain a postgraduate professional degree. Most programs award a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), though a handful may offer a Master of Physical Therapy (MPT). Attending an accredited physical therapy doctoral degree program will prepare you to earn your licensure. These specific requirements can vary by state, but usually require an examination. After this, students can complete online physical therapy continuing education courses to meet the requirements for maintaining licensure.

Getting Into a Doctoral Program

Since this is a rigorous course of study and there are a limited number of programs offered in this particular area, prospective students should expect a more selective admissions process. While each school will have their own requirements, below are some common criteria to keep in mind:

  • A bachelor’s degree in physical therapy, occupational therapy, a related field from an accredited university
  • Official transcripts from all colleges you have attended
  • Minimum GPA (as outlined by the school)
  • GRE or GMAT test scores (if required)
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Application form and fee
  • Statement of purpose
  • Letters of recommendation

Inside a Physical Therapy Doctoral Program

For those looking into online physical therapy programs, you can typically expect three years of full time study. However, this can and will vary based on level of enrollment, the specific number of courses required, and whether or not you take any breaks throughout the program. Courses will typically include a combination of survey, research, and clinical practice. Topics may include anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, clinical nutrition, diagnostic imaging, case analysis, motor control, and research methods.

Online physical therapy courses usually run in an asynchronous format. This means students do not have scheduled times they are required to attend class. Rather, they can work around busy personal and professional schedules while earning their degree. Streaming video, chat technology, and virtual meeting software help students collaborate and complete presentations and clinical practice can be completed remotely.

What’s Next for Physical Therapy Doctorate Holders?

Graduates who earn their Doctor of Physical Therapy should be prepared to obtain their licensure. Specific requirements may vary by state, but this typically involves passing the National Physical Therapy Examination or a state-administered exam. Once licensed, you may opt to pursue employment with hospitals, clinics, rehab facilities, nursing homes, or in private practice. According to statistics reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for physical therapists is expected to increase by 39% from 2010 to 2020. This is much faster than the average for all occupations.

As for salary potential, physical therapists reported a mean annual wage of $81,110 in 2012. Most jobs were found in health practitioners’ offices, followed by general medical and surgical hospitals and home health care services. Please keep in mind, level of experience, geographical location, the general job market, and the specific employer will also have an impact on salary and job availability.