Doctor of Physical Therapy: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a physical therapist, including earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Learn about salary, education and job growth to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Doctor of Physical Therapy?

A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is the degree required to practice as a physical therapist (PT). Physical therapists focus on the motor functions of patients. They understand how the muscles and ligaments work to perform tasks, and they typically watch a patient move and perform specific tasks to diagnose their condition. PTs develop treatment plans that are designed to help the patient improve their functions and to reduce or eliminate pain. They usually prescribe exercises that are designed to help their patients improve their abilities.

Some of the common patients that PTs may work with include those who've been affected by illness or injury. For example, a patient who's had a stroke or broken a leg may need to perform specific exercises to regain their balance and ability to walk properly. Physical therapists may also work with individuals with disabilities to help them improve their motor functions.

Degree Required Doctor of Physical Therapy
Training Required 1-year clinical residency
Key Responsibilities Assess patient and develop treatment plan; use therapeutic techniques to increase patient mobility, reduce pain, build strength and restore normal function; evaluate effectiveness of treatment and adjust as needed; educate patient and family about therapeutic methods and treatment
Licensure or Certification Licensure is required in all states; board certification is available in 8 clinical specialties
Job Growth (2014-2024) 34%*
Median Salary (2015) $84,020*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn with a Doctor of Physical Therapy?

In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported median annual salaries for physical therapists was $84,020. Of the nearly 210,900 practicing physical therapy doctors in 2014, 34% worked in the offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists and audiologists. Physical therapists working at teaching institutions were among the highest paid in 2015, though those in the home health care services industry and residential and nursing home practitioners also earned greater than average salaries, all at $89,000 yearly or above.

How Much Education Do I Need to Start My Career?

To become a practicing physical therapist, you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. The doctoral program provides you with the training, knowledge and skills necessary to provide restorative services for several types of motor impairments. You may find some schools that offer online transitional programs for graduates of physical therapy bachelor's and master's programs. Coursework may be offered fully or partially online to allow you scheduling flexibility.

A doctoral program typically takes between 1-3 years to complete. You'll become familiar with therapy procedures, medication usage, nutritional benefits and diagnostic imaging. Most programs require extensive research and participation as interns with affiliated clinics and hospitals. Some common topics in physical therapy include:

  • Orthopaedics
  • X-Ray and CT scanning
  • Musculoskeletal rehabilitation
  • Pharmacology
  • Pediatric and geriatric considerations
  • Exercise and nutrition

How Do I Become Qualified to Practice?

Once you've graduated from a DPT program, you qualify to take state and national examinations to become licensed. All states require physical therapists to obtain licensure, though educational, experience and testing regulations vary. The physical therapy profession generally requires that you receive continuing education in the field, and some states make it a condition of license renewal.

What If I Want to Focus My Career?

If you have a particular interest or are a practicing physical therapist wishing to specialize your practice, some teaching hospitals and clinics offer you residency and fellowship opportunities to focus on particular areas, such as prosthetic, orthopedic or geriatric rehabilitation. After receiving this training, you may choose to become board certified or join a professional organization emphasizing your expertise.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists perform many tasks that are similar to the duties of a physical therapist. These professionals need a master's degree in their field. They may monitor patients to diagnose them and then develop treatment plans to help their patients improve their functions. Speech-language pathologists focus on individuals with choking disorders and speech delays. Occupational therapists concentrate on fine motor tasks and helping patients perform typical daily functions, such as feeding themselves or writing. Like PTs, they also work with individuals affected by illness, injury or disability.

Another similar career at the doctoral level is audiology. Audiologists work with patients to diagnose and treat ear-related issues, such as hearing loss, tinnitus or balance problems. Like PTs, they aim to help patients improve their function. They may fit patients for devices to mitigate hearing loss, such as cochlear implants or hearing aids.

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