Physical Therapist Education

If you’re interested in working in the physical therapy field, you should know that there are several career paths available to you. While clinical physical therapy practice is by far the most common of these career options, there are also positions available for researchers, educators, assistants and technicians. Each career path requires a specific education level. Following, you will find information on the various careers available in the field and the physical therapist education requirements for each.

Physical Therapist Education

Physical Therapy Assistant
Every physical therapy practice has need of Physical Therapy Assistants and many individuals choose to pursue this career path. It can be an entry level career in which individuals work while continuing their education in order to become a licensed physical therapist or it can be a career path in and of its own, with ,most Physical Therapy Assistants choosing to remain in their positions for years.

The typical level of education required for working as a Physical Therapy Assistant is an Associate of Science degree from an accredited physical therapy program. Many students also complete a Bachelor of Science degree to gain a leg up in the employment market. Either degree will be one with a concentration in the physical and health sciences, including physiology, anatomy and biology courses, to name a few.

Some Physical Therapy Assistants that complete a Bachelor of Science program will eventually go on to enter a graduate degree program to achieve a Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT) or Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree in order to sit for the licensing exam and finally become a clinical physical therapist qualified to practice medicine in their home state.

Clinical Research in Physical Therapy
As with any field of medicine, there is ongoing clinical research which occurs in physical therapy. The physical therapist education required for working in clinical research positions is similar to that necessary for teaching in colleges and universities.

Some clinical research positions are open to those who have completed a MSTP or DPT degree program from an accredited college or university. The top positions in the field of clinical research are only available to those with a PhD in Health Science, Orthopedics or Physical Therapy.

Professor of Physical Therapy, Health Science or Athletic Training
Many of those who decide to teach the next generation of physical therapy professionals are doctors of physical therapy themselves, often having worked in clinical medical practices for a number of years before becoming educators. These individuals not only completed their undergraduate studies in preparation for entrance to a Physical Therapist education program for achieving a Master’s or Doctorate degree, but often go on to pursue a PhD in Philosophy, as well.

The minimum physical therapist education required for teaching at the college or university level is a graduate degree (MSTP or DTP). Most higher education institutions will also require candidates to have ten or more years of field experience.

Doctor of Physical Therapy
Those who wish to work as clinical practitioners in physical therapy will need to complete a graduate level physical therapist education which results in a Masters or Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. After completing the graduate level program, they must sit for a national licensing exam.

A passing grade on the exam is followed by registration with the state licensing board in the home state in which the individual intends to practice medicine. If the Physical Therapist moves from one state to another, registration in the new state will be necessary before the Physical Therapist may legally practice in that new state.

Typical Prerequisites for Graduate Physical Therapist Education Programs

As with any graduate level program, physical therapy schools have high entrance standards, including minimum GPA requirements, as well as course study that includes specific general studies classes, in addition to certain science courses. It is important to keep in mind that every graduate program has its own criteria for admittance and therefore you must review the requirements of your school of choice to know exactly what will be expected. Following are the typical entrance requirements for a nationally accredited Master’s or Doctorate of Physical Therapy program.

  • A Bachelor’s degree, or a minimum of three years toward a Bachelor’s degree, from a regionally or nationally accredited institution.
  • A cumulative GPA of 2.5 or higher. Many of the top physical therapist education programs require a 3.0 or higher instead.
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores of 1,000 (verbal and quantitative), and a minimum verbal score of 450.
  • Demonstrated expertise in the field of physical therapy either through clinical experience gained in an externship program during undergraduate education or through paid or volunteer work in the field of physical therapy under the supervision of a licensed Physical Therapist.
  • Three letters of recommendation, including at least one from a licensed Physical Therapist.

In addition to the aforementioned requirements, every graduate level physical therapy program also requires specific coursework to have been a part of a student’s undergraduate studies. Coursework prerequisites for the typical program are as follows.

  • General Chemistry
  • General Physics
  • Human Anatomy
  • Human Physiology
  • Microbiology or Cellular Biology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Introduction to Statistics

Some, if not all of the following undergraduate courses are also required, or at least highly recommended for entrance to a graduate level physical therapist education program.

  • Biomedical Ethics
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Motor Control or Learning
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Kinesiology – either structural or anatomical
  • Computer Courses, including word processing, spreadsheet, and statistical analysis programs

Physical Therapist Education Degree Programs

There are several levels of physical therapist education offered by colleges and universities. Students select a degree level and course load based on their chosen career path within the field of physical therapy. Here are a few of the degrees available in physical therapy.

Associate Degrees

  • Applied Medical Science
  • Physical Therapy
  • Rehabilitation Therapy

Bachelor Degrees

  • Health Science and Physical Therapy
  • Athletic Training and Rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy
  • Rehabilitation Therapy

Masters Degrees

  • Masters of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT)
  • Masters of Health Science (MHS)
  • Masters of Physical Therapy (MPT)

Doctorate Degrees

  • Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)
  • Transitional Doctorate of Physical Therapy (tDPT), also commonly known as a Post-Professional Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

Need more info? Follow this link for additional information on Physical Therapist education requirements. For those looking for specific schools that offer Physical Therapist education and training programs, Find your State in the side bar, or click here for a list of Physical Therapy Schools by State.

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