Physical Therapy Programs

Do I need a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree?

There is more to this career than mastering academic content and passing exams. A successful candidate for certification possesses a mix of personal qualities that help them succeed in a fast-paced, emotionally and physically challenging work environment.

What are some personal qualities a candidate should have to succeed as a Doctor of Physical therapist and board-certified practitioner?

A therapist is above all compassionate. They are aware of the pain and frustration patients endure during recuperation from injury. They sympathize with daily challenges faced by patients in their charge. Yet, their focus never wavers from the ultimate goal of reaching the best outcome for those in their care.

Physical therapists have a keen attention to detail. Strong observation skills are essential. Practitioners need to be analytical in nature. When presented with complex, multifaceted problems, an efficient approach must be taken that leads to correct diagnoses and treatment plans for patients.

Dealing with the public requires self-control and good interpersonal skills. Communicating treatment options and goals effectively to many types of individuals, requires good interpersonal skills. Therapists are teachers. They teach patients to follow treatment plans. Many of these patients are in pain both physically and emotionally. Good communication skills, coupled with confident self-control, are essential.

I already have a degree in physical therapy. Why should I consider further training as a DPT?

By the year 2020 the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), which provides accreditation and monitoring of physical therapy programs, believes that physical therapy treatment will be provided only by board-certified practitioners with a doctorate degree.

Individuals who have an Associate’s, Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and currently work in the field now have the option for further training through bridge programs. These options will be phased out in the future. In the near future, PT Assistants and Aides will not find bridge programs available if they wish to continue to advance in their profession and obtain a DPT degree.

Anyone wishing to enter the field and advance to become board-certified would be wise to begin DPT training now. The flexibility to advance from an Aide or Assistant Physical Therapist will become increasingly difficult over time.

What steps should I take to become a licensed, board-certified Physical Therapist with a DPT degree?

Students accepted into an accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy program usually already have a Master’s or Undergraduate degree in a health-related field. Many currently practice in the field as an Aide with an Associate’s degree or an Assistant with a Master’s degree. Some DPT programs grant admission to undergraduate candidates before they get their Bachelor’s degree in cases where they are highly qualified and or already in the field.

Undergraduate Coursework and Experience Beneficial to Students in a DPT Program

Undergraduates and graduates planning to seek a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree should take courses necessary to sharpen knowledge used by a practitioner on a daily basis. Courses in chemistry, exercise, statistics, biology, anatomy and physics are important. Any study in the healthcare field is preferable. An early decision to seek a career in the physical therapy field will make future career options more flexible.

Schools desire students with volunteer or relevant professional experience. Many programs require documentation of this experience. Volunteering provides real-world exposure to the demands of the profession. Applicants must demonstrate the beginnings of professional development and collegiality. Schools seek the opinions of professionals who have had contact in the field with prospective students. Candidates should take whatever opportunities available to demonstrate their ability and desire to succeed in a DPT program.

Here is a list of common courses taken in DPT degree programs:

  • anatomy
  • exercise physiology
  • chemistry
  • physiology
  • pathology
  • neuroscience
  • biomechanics

Programs for the DPT degree require internships and field experience as well.

Additional courses for those in clinical settings can include:

  • medical screening
  • testing and measurement
  • evidence-based medical practice
  • clinical reasoning
  • psychology

While each school may require a different combination or sequence of the above-listed courses, these are common core courses and electives available. Students should carefully examine the course offerings available from the many schools accredited to offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

Choosing a Doctor of Physical Therapy Program

First, be certain the school you choose is accredited. Accreditation for physical therapy programs is handled in the United States by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). A visit to their website is essential to prospective students. Click on the Student link provided. There you will find additional links and an excellent frequently asked questions section. Clicking on the map of the United States, to the right of the screen, calls up a list of accredited schools that offer the DPT degree. Take some time to thoroughly explore the APTA website. It is a good starting point with a wealth of information.

Students can study online or at a bricks-and-mortar traditional campus setting. Either way, there will be the need to arrange a field site for the internship portion of study. Cyber-students can arrange for clinical internship experience closer to home through cooperative agreements with the supervising practitioner and the school. Choose an online school that allows for enough field hours to qualify you for certification in your home state.

Deciding on whether to distance-learn or commute to a local campus depends on the needs of the applicant. Online schools allow for flexibility for working professionals or busy schedules. This convenience should be weighed against an individual student’s learning style, motivation, and circumstances. Distance-learning is not the right option for everyone. Below is a sample of a few online and traditional campus programs. Contact information is also provided.

Online Schools

Utica College:
1600 Burrstone Road, Utica, NY 13502
Phone: (315) 792-3006
Doctor of Physical Therapy program website:

Utica College provides a program that admits Master’s degree recipients. They will guarantee future admission to undergrad students who show aptitude and commitment to the profession before they have completed their undergraduate program. The program is accredited and qualifies students to sit for professional exams in their home states.

University of New England
Westbrook College of Health Professions
Dept. Of Physical Therapy
Graduate Admissions Office
716 Stevens Avenue
Portland, ME 04103. Phone 207-221-4225 or 800-477-4863

Applicants at The University of New England must already possess a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in physical therapy from an accredited institution. Applicants must also be licensed PT’s in their home state. This is a program for current professionals seeking the DPT.

University of Indianapolis
1400 East Hanna Avenue. Indianapolis, Indiana. 46227
(317) 788-3368 • 800-232-8634
Program Website:

University of Indianapolis, states that successful applicants have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. However, their current class has a GPA of 3.70. Applicants must show extensive coursework in sciences, particularly chemistry and the biosciences. Undergraduate admission is offered after the third year is completed, and only to undergrads from The University of Indianapolis. All other applicants must have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

Traditional Schools

University of Southern California
Department of Biokinesiology & Physical Therapy
1540 East Alcazar Street, CHP 155
Los Angeles, CA 90089-9006
Phone: (323)442-2900
Fax: (323)442-1515
Web Address:
Program E-mail:

The University of Southern California has a program designed to prepare the graduate for private practice. Skills are honed to allow the practitioner to function without the support of or referral from larger organizations. USC also offers one of the few programs that grant a philosophical version of the degree; a Ph. D in Biokinesiology. This gives applicants the opportunity to pursue an academic degree in therapy for the purpose of teaching at the university level.

University of Hartford
Physical Therapy Program
Department of Physical Therapy
200 Bloomfield Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06117-1599
Phone: (860)768-5419
Fax: (860)768-4558
Web Address:
Program E-mail:

Acceptance in this program requires very specific undergraduate coursework, and the GRE exam with a score of 500 or greater. The requirements are so specific that the applicant should consult the website carefully and address any further questions to the following contact person:

Barbara Crane
Assistant Professor
Department of Physical Therapy
Phone: 860.768.5371

The University of Iowa
Graduate Program in Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science
1-252 Medical Education Building
Iowa City, IA 52242-1190
Phone: 319-335-9791; FAX: 319-335-9707
Program website:

Iowa’s program provides two options for a physical therapy program. For students interested in a clinical career they grant the DPT doctorate. This qualifies the graduate to sit for the national certification exams and individual state exams across the country. The Ph. D option is also available for students who wish to teach physical therapy in an academic setting.

These schools are just a sample of the institutions granting a DPT degree. Getting the degree is not the end of the education process for future physical therapists. To practice professionally, a graduate must sit for and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam. Each state also has additional state licensing exams and requirements that vary with each jurisdiction. Students should consult their individual licensing boards to be certain they are on track for professional certification.

Career Outlook

The most recently available statistics show that there are approximately 186,000 people practicing in the field of physical therapy. Sixty percent of these professionals work in the clinical setting. Demand for new graduates is expected to rise by 30 percent over the next few years. In fact, currently, many professionals hold two jobs due to high demand. Rural areas have an even greater demand due to geographical isolation from metropolitan areas where professionals tend to cluster.

As the population shifts to an older demographic, demand will continue to be supported. Medical advances make heart attack and stroke more survivable. Individuals with this condition tend to need physical rehabilitation and support. Medical advances allow for the birth of more physically, and developmentally disabled children that would have not survived pregnancy in the past. As these children advance into a more inclusive educational environment, more school systems will need specialized physical therapy professionals to comply with mandates driven by compliance with federal regulation and the Americans with Disabilities Act. (ADA)

Physical therapists have a demanding job. High demand creates higher pay for qualified individuals. The 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, records average earning information for physical therapists. Salaries depend on geographic area and work setting. The median earnings for the year 2008 were $72,790. Those in the middle range earned between $60,300 and $85,540. Of these individuals, the highest salary was $104,350. Salaries are a reflection of experience, location and workplace. The largest employers were healthcare services, nursing facilities and medical-surgical hospitals and facilities.

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One Response to “Physical Therapy Programs”
  1. Jamie Delos Reyes

    I am a licensed physicla therapist assistant and have about six (6) years experience as a physical therapist assistant. Most of the times, I do perform physical therapy works on my patients and very much well rounded now. I graduated high honor in my class and pass state licensing exam with flying color. What is the best school for me to do my DPT? I heard University of Iowa has a comprehensive program.
    Thanks. Jamie

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