What Types of Education Programs Are Available in Physical Therapy?

If you have an interest in the healthcare industry and a desire to help people, physical therapy may be the right career field for you. Degrees in this field are available at the associate's and doctoral degree levels. Associate's degree programs prepare students for careers as physical therapist assistants, while a doctoral degree is required to become a physical therapist. Schools offering Physical Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Physical Therapy Overview

Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants care for physically ill or injured people by helping them manage pain and improve their movement. Education programs prepare students to assist patients through the recovery and rehabilitation process in classroom and clinical settings. Individuals in doctoral programs are also trained to diagnose patients and develop customized plans of care.

Practicing therapists and assistants are required to have an education from a Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredited program and pass the National Physical Therapy Exam.

Important Facts About Physical Therapy Degrees

Degree Levels Associate's degree, doctoral degree
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent; bachelor's degree and clinical observation experience
Online Availability Partial online programs available
Continuing Education Physical therapist or physical therapist assistant license received by taking the National Physical Therapy Exam
Median Salary (2018) $87,930 (for physical therapists)*
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 28% (for physical therapists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Associate's Degree in Physical Therapy Assistant

Physical therapy assistant associate's degree programs provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to help provide general patient care under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. The curriculum includes classroom instruction in general physical therapy principles and provides hands-on clinical training. Applicants typically need a high school diploma. As of 2012, there were 298 physical therapy assistant degree programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Typical Coursework

The physical therapy assistant degree curriculum usually emphasizes clinical experience so that you may learn to apply your academic knowledge while under the supervision of a licensed therapist. Program coursework usually takes two years to complete. Common courses include:

  • Medical terminology
  • Musculoskeletal anatomy
  • Massage theory
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Rehabilitation
  • Therapeutic exercise

Physical Therapy Assistant Licensure Information

Physical therapy assistants are required to be licensed in all states except for Hawaii, per the BLS. Licensure requirements may vary slightly by state by usually include the completion of a CAPTE-accredited program and passing the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy's National Physical Therapy Exam.

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Programs leading to a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree generally require three years of full-time study and include intensive clinical rotations. You'll study standard professional behaviors and ethics, applied sciences, research methods, clinical skills and problem solving strategies relevant to the physical therapy field. According to the BLS, there were more than 200 Doctor of Physical Therapy degree programs accredited by CAPTE in 2015.

Admission requirements include a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution and 30-80 hours of documented clinical observation experience. Required coursework includes biology, physics, anatomy, psychology, statistics and human physiology. Other recommended courses include introductory kinesiology, exercise physiology and medical ethics.

Typical Coursework

The Doctor of Physical Therapy degree curriculum focuses on current physical therapy technology, evidence-based practice models and clinical cases. Hands-on learning is incorporated through laboratory practice and clinical practicums. Course topics usually include:

  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Clinical imaging
  • Pharmacology
  • Physical therapy assessment
  • Geriatric therapy
  • Orthotics and prosthetics

Physical Therapist Licensure Information

Physical therapy practice is a regulated industry in all 50 states. Although requirements for licensing vary, common requirements include having a DPT degree from an accredited physical therapy program and passing scores on the National Physical Therapy Examination as well as state-specific exams. Once licensed you will typically be required to participate in a number of continuing education activities to maintain and renew your credentials.

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:

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