How Do I Become a Physical Therapist?

The common requirements to become a physical therapist are a college degree in physical therapy and state licensure. Physical therapists need a strong understanding of health, anatomy, and nutrition, along with good interpersonal skills. They need strength and stamina because the job is physically demanding. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Requirements

Physical therapists help patients to develop, restore, and maintain movement and physical function. They work with people who are temporarily or permanently disabled as a result of disease, injury, or age. Most physical therapists hold a master's degree or doctorate in physical therapy, and they are licensed by the state. Physical therapists can find work in a number of health organizations, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Physicians' offices
  • Physical therapy centers

Physical therapists can also maintain a private practice with their own patients. Some may do this in addition to working part-time at another facility.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Median Salary (2018)$87,930
Job Outlook (2016-2026)28%
Similar OccupationsOccupational therapist, physical therapist assistant and aide, recreational therapist
TrainingClinical internship required for licensure

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education

In previous years, a bachelor's degree was commonly required to become a physical therapist. However, in recent times, most physical therapist degree programs have shifted to the graduate level. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), there were over 200 accredited physical therapist degree programs in the United States as of 2017. Of these, all offer a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

A physical therapy doctoral degree program typically lasts three years. Most programs feature practicum courses in which the student works under a professional physical therapist at a local clinic or hospital. Classroom courses cover a broad range of human health subjects, including:

  • Anatomy
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Neuroscience
  • Diagnostics

Licensure

All U.S. states require physical therapists to be licensed before they can practice. After completing a degree program, applicants can contact their local licensing authority to take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). Each state maintains its own rules for eligibility to sit for the exam. A list of contacts for licensing authorities in all 50 states can be found at the website for the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (www.fsbpt.org).

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