What Courses Are Needed to Become a Physical Therapist?

To become a physical therapist, you'll need to complete several educational hurdles, starting with your undergraduate education and advancing to the graduate level. Meeting licensing requirements may involve additional continuing education courses. Read on to learn about how to become a physical therapist, and explore some of the specific courses you may encounter on the way. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Physical Therapy Career Overview

As a physical therapist, you'll observe patients to diagnose dysfunctional movements and devise treatment plans. You'd help people suffering from arthritis, neurological disorders, fractures and sprains using exercises, stretching techniques and special equipment. Throughout the treatment process, you'll monitor your patients' progress and educate them and their families about what to expect. You could specialize in treating a specific population, such as orthopedic patients, athletes or the elderly.

Important Facts About This Field of Study

Degree/Certificate Levels D.P.T. or Ph.D.
Continuing Education State and national licensing, required continuing education courses, membership in professional organizations and the American Physical Therapy Association
Online Availability Available through some programs for working professionals
Possible Careers Occupational therapists, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and chiropractors
Median Salary (2018) $87,930
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 28% growth

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Undergraduate Coursework

A bachelor's degree in biology is a common undergraduate degree for aspiring physical therapists; however, a specific major isn't usually required. No matter what major you choose, you'll need to complete certain science prerequisites. Coursework in human anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, statistics and social sciences are typical prerequisites for many graduate degree programs in physical therapy.

Some schools offer pre-physical therapy bachelor's degree programs, usually in biology, that are designed to prepare you for graduate programs in physical therapy. These specially formatted bachelor's programs provide you with courses in key scientific areas of biology, anatomy and chemistry, such as vertebrate anatomy and genetics. Many graduate physical therapy programs also require you to have some field experience in a hospital's physical therapy department before they'll grant you admission.

Graduate Coursework

Once you've earned an undergraduate degree, your next step is to seek a graduate degree in physical therapy. Doctoral degree programs are much more common, although master's degree programs also exist and are considered a legitimate path towards the profession. However, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), all programs will be transitioning to a doctoral degree by 2017.

Graduate programs in physical therapy will provide you with an advanced study of human anatomy and biology, as well as the clinical skills needed to become a physical therapist. These advanced programs, particularly doctoral programs, emphasize clinical internships, which serve to give you hands-on experience and acquaint you with the professional world of physical therapy. Your coursework will include:

  • Gross anatomy
  • Healthcare business management
  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Neurological dysfunction diagnosis
  • Geriatric physical therapy
  • Biomechanics
  • Diagnostic imaging interpretation
  • Normal and pathological human gait
  • Electrotherapy

Residency and Board Certification Info

After graduating from your physical therapy program, you could enter an optional residency if you wish to receive specialty training. Residency programs usually last one year and provide training in areas such as geriatric physical therapy or orthopedics. You may then enter a fellowship if you wish to further specialize. After gaining work experience in your specialty area or completing a residency, you could test for board certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.

Licensure and Continuing Education

Once you graduate from a master's or doctoral degree program in physical therapy, you must seek state licensure before becoming a practicing physical therapist. Licensure requirements vary by state, but you must always pass the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy's National Physical Therapy Examination. Depending where you live, your state might also require you to pass a law exam and criminal background check.

Many states require the completion of continuing education in order to remain licensed. Continuing education credits are available through organizations such as the APTA. Common course areas for continuing education include:

  • Physical therapy for cancer patients
  • Legal issues in physical therapy
  • Dynamic bracing
  • Restoring knee functions
  • Pharmacology in physical therapy
  • Pain management with the elderly
  • Pediatric physical therapy
  • Treating vestibular hypofunction
  • Patient handling and movement safety
  • Coding and payment policy issues in physical therapy

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  • Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Southern New Hampshire University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Regent University

    Regent University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Regent University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Penn Foster High School

    Penn Foster High School responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Penn Foster High School:

    Online Programs Available

  • Duke University

    Campus Locations:

    • North Carolina: Durham
  • University of Florida

    Campus Locations:

    • Florida: Gainesville
  • Boston University

    Campus Locations:

    • Massachusetts: Boston
  • Marquette University

    Campus Locations:

    • Wisconsin: Milwaukee
  • Howard University

    Campus Locations:

    • Columbia (D.C.): Washington
  • New York University

    Campus Locations:

    • New York: New York