How to Become a Physical Therapist

Training and Education Jobs and Salaries

Physical therapists need a masters degree from an accredited physical therapy program and a State license, requiring passing scores on national and State examinations. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, there are over 210 accredited physical therapist education programs. Of the accredited programs, 43 offer master degrees and 166 offer doctoral degrees. Only masters degree and doctoral degree programs are accredited, in accordance with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

In the future, a doctoral degree might be the required entry-level degree. Masters degree programs typically last two years, and doctoral degree programs last three years. Physical therapist education programs start with basic science courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics and then introduce specialized courses, including biomechanics, neuroanatomy, human growth and development, manifestations of disease, examination techniques, and therapeutic procedures. Besides getting classroom and laboratory instruction, students receive supervised clinical experience.

Among the undergraduate courses that are useful when one applies to a physical therapist education program are anatomy, biology, chemistry, social science, mathematics, and physics. Before granting admission, many programs require volunteer experience in the physical therapy department of a hospital or clinic. For high school students, volunteering with the school athletic trainer is a good way to gain experience.

All States require physical therapists to pass national and State licensure exams before they can practice. They must also graduate from an accredited physical therapist education program. Physical therapists should have strong interpersonal skills so that they can educate patients about their physical therapy treatments and communicate with patients families.

Physical therapists also should be compassionate and possess a desire to help patients. Physical therapists are expected to continue their professional development by participating in continuing education courses and workshops. In fact, a number of States require continuing education as a condition of maintaining licensure.