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Education Requirements to Become a Physical Therapist

Majors Overview January 18, 2013

A student aspiring to become a physical therapist is required to maintain a master degree. In the majority of cases, a doctoral degree in therapy is mandatory. Coursework in colleges usually combines classroom lectures and rotations in clinical settings. In addition, a prospective physical therapist who wants to practice their profession will need to meet licensure norms. In this article, we will look at the educational requirements that need to be satisfied by an aspiring physical therapist.

Undergraduate Education

Prospective physical therapists are allowed to choose their areas of concentration relating to undergraduate study programs. An aspiring physical therapist can seek admission in a specialty area with coursework that has a significant science component including physiology, anatomy, and biology. They can also opt for a pre-physical major offered by the health and physical education departments of some school. Coursework in such programs includes health-related and science subjects like personal wellness, physical education methods, and exercise physiology.

Graduate Education

A graduate degree is the minimum requirement expected of physical therapists. While there are some master degree programs, they are vastly outnumbered by doctoral degree programs. The admission criteria for graduate degree programs can vary; however, common standards sought by schools include volunteer hours, standardized test scores or grade point average. Many schools also want prospective candidates to fulfill prerequisite coursework.

Students enrolling in Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs are trained about the process of treatment and diagnosis. Coursework covers topic areas in anatomy alongside physical therapy procedures such as exercises and therapeutic applications. Some assessment and integration courses are included in DPT programs; these are devised to teach students the application of techniques taught via simulations.

Students of Doctor of Physical Therapy programs can participate in clerkships in clinical settings where they perform work in healthcare facilities while being supervised by licensed physical therapists. Such clerkships could also include an introductory practicum that allows students to observe a workplace. There are part-time clerkships integrated with coursework as well as full-time ones that are more advanced. During these experiences, students learn different physical therapy methods including acute care and rehabilitation.

The Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredits some programs and students should consider applying for admission to such programs. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation recognizes this agency as the only accrediting organization for physical therapy courses. Graduates from a program that carries the CAPTE’s accreditation are also required to take a licensing examination (source:

Licensing Information

Other than graduation from an accredited program, states also require students to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination before granting the students a license. In some states, applicants for licenses are also required to pass a jurisprudence examination that tests their knowledge of state legislation. Continuing education may also be needed to keep licensure valid.

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