How to Become a Physical Therapist

How To Become a Physical Therapist

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

You first must earn your bachelor's degree so you can go on to complete a graduate program. There is no set major you should focus on while going for your undergrad, but the majority of courses focus on:

  • Biology
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Also, you need to keep a GPA of a 3.0 and have a minimum of 21 hours in science courses to be considered for a graduate program. An undergrad course load might look like the following, if you take a pre-professional or pre-medical route:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • College Algebra & Statistics
  • Introduction to Kinesiology
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Statistics
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology I
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology II
  • Emergency Medical Response
  • Applied Kinesiology
  • Athletic Care & Prevention
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Nutrition for Atheletes
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Lower Body Injury Evaluation
  • Athletic Training Clinical I & II
  • Exercise Testing
  • Upper Body Injury Evaluation
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Health in the US
  • Health Education & Planning
  • Healthcare Management
  • Health Policy
  • Capstone
  • Remaining Requirements & Electives

2. Earn a Master's or Doctoral Degree (2 - 6 Years)

Most physical therapy education programs have moved from the master's program to the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.

In order to practice as a physical therapist, you must receive a DPT Degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). These programs usually take three years to finish.

During your time there you will receive supervised clinical practice and classroom and lab instruction in examining patients and evaluating their disabilities, instruction on prosthetics and orthotics, and medical screening and diagnostics.

Potential applicants can investigate program admission requirements and make multiple applications to Physical Therapy Education Programs via the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).

3. Earn the Required License

A physical therapist must be licensed nationally and, in some cases, at a state level. They must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam that the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy offers.

The test focuses on your competency in physical therapy theory, practice, and consultation. There are also individual state licensure requirements that they must meet before being allowed to practice in that state. Check with your local licensing authority to apply.

4. Complete a Residency Program (Optional)

If you want to gain more practice and get a leg up on job applicants, you can complete a Residency Program. Programs typically include 1,500 hours of clinical practice and take up to 36 months to complete.

While there you are allowed to examine and diagnose patients under the supervision of other licensed PTs. You can also decide to work towards specializing in a certain area.

A residency program would be a good option if you want to go on to complete a specialist certification. You need to find a residency program that's accredited by the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE).

5. Earn a Specialist Certification (Optional)

If you wanted to keep furthering your education, and really beat out the competition, you can choose to get certified in a specialty through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS), which offers eight different specialty areas: Cardiovascular and Pulmonary, Clinical Electrophysiology, Geriatrics, Neurology, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, Sports, and Women's Health.

To qualify, you must be licensed and have at least 2,000 hours of practice in your chosen specialty (where that residency could help). Then you need to pass the 200-question specialist certification exam, to see if you have the knowledge and skills you need in relation to your specialty.