The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a surge in the demand for physical therapists at a growth rate of 21% between 2020 and 2030. This is partly due to the increasing number of Baby Boomer generation and an increase in ailments that affect mobility, such as heart attack, strokes, obesity, Parkinson’s disease, and more.
As the rise in those cases becomes more significant, physical therapists will be needed to help patients restore and maintain mobility.
Suppose you find the idea of helping people improve their quality of life through specialized medical approaches appealing. In that case, consider embarking on a career as a physical therapist. Before you can begin, though, knowing what a physical therapist does and the educational requirements to become one is imperative.
We provide a detailed guide on the topic below.
Who is a Physical Therapist?
A physical therapist is a movement expert who improves quality of life through prescribed exercises, hands-on care, and patient education. Physical therapists work closely with patients who have experienced disruption in mobility (due to illness or injuries) to restore their range of motion, restore function, and manage their pain as they embark on a rehabilitation journey.
Like other careers, there are steps to becoming a physical therapist, and a big part of this process is specific educational requirements that ensure a successful career path.
Physical Therapist Training and Education
Physical therapists work with patients who have limitations in mobility and people who simply want to have a healthy lifestyle and prevent future issues or injuries. However, a career in this field requires a mastery of expertise and skills through accredited programs.
It also often requires both national and state licensure.
The training and educational journey of each physical therapist varies from one another, but here are the most common academic milestones of a physical therapist.
One of the requirements to pursue a doctoral degree in physical therapy is first to earn a bachelor’s degree in any health-related course. Aspiring physical therapists are advised to major in as many science-related courses as possible. Courses like Anatomy, Physics, Biology, Physiology, Chemistry, and behavioral science courses like management sciences, clinical reasoning, and ethics help.
Here, students get the opportunity to gain hands-on experience by shadowing licensed physical therapists while also completing the physical therapy observation hours that might be required for admission into some Doctor of Physical Therapy programs.
Doctor of Physical Therapy Program
The next step is enrolling in an accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy or master’s program. A typical DPT program is designed to ensure students gain both clinical and coursework experiences.
DPT programs typically last three years, and the first two years have the student’ taking courses on the following topics:
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
It is essential to check and gather information about specific DPT programs to know which are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)
National Physical Therapy Examination - NPTE
After completing a DPT program, the next step is for students to pass their National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to obtain their physical therapy license. After getting their licenses, physical therapists must meet educational and occupational requirements to renew their licenses every two years.
It is essential to know that passing NPTE does not equal state licensure; some states will require an additional, distinct state license.
Residency or Fellowship
After completing a DPT program, aspiring physical therapists often choose to complete a residency or fellowship even though it is not required to practice. Completing a residency or fellowship allows a physical therapist to gain more experience and training in their area of specialization. It typically lasts one year.
After gaining considerable work experience as a licensed physical therapist, many physical therapists usually opt for certification to become specialists in any of the certified specialty areas specified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.
To work as a physical therapist in some states, a physical therapist will be expected to meet a state’s licensing requirements even after passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). It is essential to check with a state licensing board to know if state licensure is required and the specific requirements to obtain a state license.
Choosing the right DPT program
To choose the right DPT programs accredited by CAPTE, there are some essential factors to note. The factors include but are not limited to:
- Eligibility of accreditation: Not all DPT programs are accredited by CAPTE, so before embarking on a schedule, an aspiring physical therapist must first check for physical therapy programs and schools accredited by CAPTE.
- Check requirements: Before choosing a DPT program, a student must check the conditions of their intended DPT programs. For example, some DPT programs only accept anatomy coursework from an anatomy or physiology department.
- Costs: According to a report by APTA, half of physical therapist graduates graduate with student loans due to varying factors like location, length of program, and housing.
Physical therapists get to examine and create treatment plans that improve mobility, ease patients’ pain, and prevent disability for millions of people. Becoming one can be a veritable path towards a fulfilling career of helping people and getting an impressive salary.
Of course, to be able to do these, one must obtain the proper education. Below, we have looked at some of the most essential steps. The key is enrolling in an accredited DPT program that fulfills a handful of critical criteria such as quality, alignment with interest, and cost-effectiveness.
Getting familiar with state licensure requirements is essential before getting started as a physical therapist in a particular state. Aspiring physical therapists may also have to decide whether or not they want to complete a residency beforehand.