How to Become a Physical Therapist

How to Become a Physical Therapist
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Physical therapy is a lucrative, rewarding, and stable profession. However, it requires a substantial amount of education and training and you should expect a challenging path.

This article discusses how to become a physical therapist. Furthermore, it examines what total physical therapy includes and how physical therapists can specialize in their craft. From earning a bachelor’s degree to completing your Doctorate of Physical Therapy to completing your residency, you will learn all you need to know regarding becoming a physical therapist.

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

Physical therapists specialize in rehabilitation and improve others’ lives through movement analysis, functional exercises, and a tailored program to facilitate recovery. Licensed physical therapists can treat individuals of all ages and therapy needs. Although most of their patients have endured injuries, physical therapists also treat people who are only interested in therapy for performance reasons.

Where Do Physical Therapists Work?

Physical therapists work in a wide range of settings. They can work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, people’s homes, sports and fitness facilities, workplaces, and nursing homes.

How Much Do Physical Therapists Make?

The median salary for physical therapists is $85,000, but their salaries vary according to experience, degree of education, location, and practice setting. The demand for physical therapy varies according to geographic location and the need for therapists. However, PT unemployment rates are exceptionally low around the country, and the demand for physical therapists remains strong.

Physical Therapist Education and Licensure

To practice physical therapy in the United States, you need to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy program and pass a state licensure exam. The length of most DPT programs is around three years, and the primary content for these programs centers around the following principles:

  • Biology/anatomy
  • Cellular histology
  • Physiology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Communication
  • Ethics/values
  • Management sciences
  • Finance
  • Sociology
  • Clinical reasoning
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary science
  • Endocrine and metabolic sciences
  • Musculoskeletal sciences

1.    Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a physical therapist is much like any other career path in that you have to start by earning a bachelor’s degree. Most colleges don’t have a Physical Therapy Bachelor’s Degree. However, some universities have pre-physical therapy programs. Even if they don’t, the degree you earn should be science-related and focus on sharpening a general understanding of the related fields of physical therapy.

Your bachelor’s degree should focus on the following areas:

 

  • Biology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary sciences
  • Endocrine sciences
  • Metabolic sciences
  • Musculoskeletal sciences

These are the most common bachelor degrees to earn before entering a Doctorate of Physical Therapy program:

  • Physics
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Exercise Science

 

2.    Hands-On Experience

Shadowing a physical therapist is one of the most common prerequisites to entering a Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. Not all physical therapy programs require shadowing hours and the number of observation hours varies depending on the program. Some programs pay for shadowing hours, and others don’t. The volunteer hours give you much-needed hands-on experience that will prepare you for the more immersive Doctorate of Physical Therapy program.

During these hours, you will also gain experience dealing with different injuries and analyzing cases. You will assist the physical therapist in duties such as patient preparation and movement. For example, you will assess patients by lowering or raising their affected areas, and the physical therapist will walk you through their assessments. Physical therapy shadowing opportunities will focus on the following areas:

  1. Acute care
  2. Aquatics
  3. Cardiovascular and pulmonary
  4. Geriatrics
  5. Home health
  6. Neurology
  7. Oncology
  8. Orthopedics
  9. Pediatrics
  10. Sports
  11. Women’s health

During the shadowing phase, exposure to multiple areas will prepare you for the curriculum you need to understand in your Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. So, the more experience you gain during this phase, the more confidence you will have when you enter your program.

14.                  Complete Your Doctorate of Physical Therapy

Typical Doctorates of Physical Therapy take three years to complete and teach you in the following areas:

  • Biology/anatomy
  • Cellular histology
  • Physiology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Communication
  • Ethics/values
  • Management sciences
  • Finance
  • Sociology
  • Clinical reasoning
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary
  • Endocrine and metabolic
  • Musculoskeletal system

A typical Doctorate of Physical Therapy is around 80% classroom and 20% lab-based. It’s also important to note that not all Doctorate of Physical Therapy programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

15.                  Physical Therapy Exam Requirements

You must research to find a program that fits your specific needs and keeps you on track for admissions requirements. You must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy to practice physical therapy on patients.

Some programs offer a 3+3 curricular format in which three years of pre-professional courses must be taken before a student can advance into a three-year professional DPT program. There are also a few other programs that offer freshman entry following high school.

High school students who get accepted into these programs can automatically advance into specified DPT programs, pending the completion of their undergraduate courses. Additionally, you need to fulfill GPA requirements.

16.                  Fulfill Physical Therapy License Requirements

Physical therapy licensure is required to practice physical therapy in every state. Precise physical therapy license requirements vary depending on location, so you need to check. However, you must also pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to obtain a PT license. For the NPTE, you have five hours to complete the 250 questions. All of these questions are objective, multiple-choice questions.

The subject material of these questions deals with body systems such as the neuromuscular and nervous systems, lymphatic systems, and the musculoskeletal system. Additionally, they cover safety and protection, therapeutic modalities, research, and science-based practices.

After you pass the NPTE, you should continue learning. You can work on your continued education with clinical physical therapy residency programs and clinical physical therapy fellowship programs.  

17.                  Complete Physical Therapy Residency

Clinical residencies are designed to advance your knowledge and preparation as a patient care provider in specified areas. It combines opportunities for ongoing clinical mentoring and gives more in-depth training for advanced practice techniques.

Clinical fellowships are post-professional programs for physical therapists to develop specific skills in their area of clinical practice. When entering a post-professional program, therapists have the opportunity to become board-certified specialists through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.

Specialization is a necessary component of becoming a physical therapist. It involves expanding on a broad foundation of therapeutic knowledge and gaining a deep understanding of a specific therapeutic area. SPecializing in a particular therapeutic field doesn’t require certification, but the more experience you have, the more credibility you can establish among clientele and your peers.

Conclusion- How to Become a Physical Therapist

Becoming a physical therapist is a respectable and lucrative professional decision. However, becoming a physical therapist requires years of education and a deep understanding of various sciences that takes time, education, and investment.

You should expect at least three years of postgraduate education. Additionally, you should expect around three years of residency training following postgraduate education.


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Asheley Rice

I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

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