How to Become a Physical Therapist: A Newcomer's Guide (2022)

How to Become a Physical Therapist: A Newcomer's Guide (1)

The work of a physical therapist (PT) sounds undeniably appealing. PTs spend their days taking a hands-on, active role in helping people of all ages maintain or regain their strength and mobility. The ability to move is a fundamental—and easy to take for granted—factor in our overall quality of life, and PTs lead the way in keeping patients on track as they rehabilitate.

Because of this, you can certainly envision yourself working with patients as a physical therapist someday. But you also know that the road to becoming a physical therapist isn’t as simple as a snap of the fingers—there are several important steps to take along the way.

So what does that entail? Let’s walk through the major milestones prospective physical therapists will reach along the way.

5 Steps for becoming a physical therapist

The following steps, while certainly much easier said than done, will put you on track to becoming a physical therapist. Keep in mind that while these are listed sequentially, the work associated with each milestone can overlap a bit (e.g., preparing for the licensure exam during graduate school).

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1. Earn an undergraduate degree and complete prerequisites

Your main goal during your undergraduate years will be to gain admission to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program after graduation. With grad school as a clear next step, you want to keep track of DPT program admission requirements and stay focused on becoming a competitive applicant.

Typically, DPT graduate programs don’t require a specific bachelor’s degree for admission—what’s most important is that you complete a bachelor’s degree program and fulfill the specific course requirements. Common undergraduate degree options include exercise science, kinesiology, biology, health science or psychology.

You do have some flexibility in your undergraduate education path, but meeting program prerequisites should not be overlooked at this stage. While each DPT program sets its own prerequisite standards, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)® states the most common course prerequisites include:1

  • Anatomy/A&P 1 with lab
  • Physiology/A&P 2 with lab
  • Biology 1 (not botany or zoology)
  • Biology 2 (not botany or zoology)
  • General Chemistry 1 with lab
  • General Chemistry 2 with lab
  • General Physics 1 with lab
  • General Physics 2 with lab
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

Given the varying entry requirements for different DPT programs, undergrad is also the time to review and research options for DPT programs—this will help prevent any unexpected issues during the application process.

2. Apply to DPT programs

It might seem like a small step, but the application process takes some real work. There is a helpful online tool you’ll want to get familiar with at this stage—the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS)®. Not only can you find program admissions requirements on the PTCAS site, but you can also apply through their system to all the schools you’re interested in.

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The application is broken up into sections where you’ll need to provide relevant information and documentation. We’ll walk through the sections to help you get a better idea of what you can start doing now to become a physical therapist.

  • Personal information: This includes contact info and some biographic information.
  • GPA and scores: Here, you’ll submit your transcripts. This section will also include your score for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a standardized test that most DPT programs require.
  • References: While some programs require only two, many experts recommend having four to five on file in PTCAS. A practicing physical therapist and professor are often the strongest types of references, though other healthcare professionals, supervisors or advisors are accepted as well.
  • Observation hours: While not all programs require observation hours, they are highly recommended. Not only do these demonstrate your interest in and your knowledge of the profession, but shadowing a physical therapist can help you become more confident in your career choice. These hours can include outpatient and inpatient settings.
  • Experiences: Here’s the place to list your club involvement, leadership opportunities, research and volunteer hours.
  • Achievements/licenses and certification: This is where you can showcase any official credentials you hold like first aid, basic lifesaving (BLS), lifeguarding, certified personal training, etc.
  • Essay: Your personal statement tells the programs you’re applying to about your journey and motivations for becoming a PT. You’ll answer additional essay questions that vary depending on the year. Many programs also send out supplemental applications to applicants that pass their initial screening.

There are a lot of programs to research and apply to. Like with your undergraduate experience, you’ll want to weigh factors like cost, course experience, location and more before applying and enrolling.

3. Complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy program

At this stage, you’ll be immersed in intensive academic courses with hands-on lab training as you master the skills and knowledge needed to practice as a physical therapist. Additionally, students will complete clinical rotations, where they’ll work directly with patients and established physical therapists. This combination aims to progressively build and reinforce critical skills like diagnosis, clinical reasoning, patient management and much more.

Graduate school is a period of intense growth and development as a prospective physical therapist. You’ll have a lot to take in during this time, but you will also make professional connections and develop a clearer picture of your preferred settings and patient populations to work with.

4. Pass the licensing exam and meet other licensing requirements

Towards the end of your graduate program, you’ll start getting ready to take the licensing exam for physical therapists, the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)®. The exam consists of 250 objective, multiple-choice questions covering the major areas of physical therapy. This assessment is a five-hour exam with five sections designed to evaluate your competence and ability to safely practice as a physical therapist.

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While clearly you’ll want to put in the study time and work to ensure you’ll pass this critical licensure exam on the first attempt, you do have the opportunity to retake the exam up to six times (with a maximum of three attempts per 12 month window). The best way to avoid multiple retakes is to be prepared. Review the content outline, seek out review materials and work with a study buddy to stay on top of your test prep.

While you must pass the exam to get licensed, it’s not the only part of getting licensed. You’ll have to look into your state’s exact requirements. Some common requirements include:

  • Supervised clinical practice hours
  • Jurisprudence assessments
  • Background checks
  • Proof of professional liability insurance

Keep in mind that this is a step that can overlap somewhat with the next. Some states offer DPT graduates temporary permits to work as they await licensure exams, and employers may hire physical therapists with employment contingent on obtaining licensure.

5. Sharpen your resume and start your job search

Now’s the time for all the studying and clinical hours to finally pay off. You’ll need to polish up your resume, practice your interviewing skills and turn to the network of physical therapy professionals you’ve built throughout your education to find a position. Beyond the typical job-search advice, it’s also a good idea to join your state’s physical therapy association to further your connections and demonstrate your commitment to the profession.

Some physical therapists choose to take the step of joining a residency or fellowship program after graduation for additional intensive training in specialized areas like wound care, hand therapy, neurology, geriatrics and more. These optional programs offer an opportunity for physical therapists to work closely with established specialists and develop an even deeper knowledge of the focus area.

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What’s next for you

The road to becoming a physical therapist is undoubtedly a lengthy one. The good news is you’ve already taken a small first step by getting a handle on what’s to come. As you’re starting out in college, keep in mind the importance of meeting course prerequisites and other entry requirements for your graduate program of choice.

If you’re ready to start exploring program options and requirements, head over to the Rasmussen University Doctor of Physical Therapy program page to learn more about how this innovative hybrid format program can help prepare you for a life-changing career.2

1“PT Admissions Process,” American Physical Therapy Association, [accessed June 2022]. https://www.apta.org/your-career/careers-in-physical-therapy/pt-admissions-process.
2 Currently this program is NOT eligible for participation in Title IV federal student aid programs.

American Physical Therapy Association and PTCAS are registered trademarks of the American Physical Therapy Association.

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NPTE is a registered trademark of the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

FAQs

How long does it take to train as a physical therapist? ›

A university degree is the most popular way to become a physiotherapist. A full-time degree can take three years and a part-time course will take six years. A two-year accelerated Masters course is also an option if you already have a relevant degree.

What degree do I need to be a physical therapist? ›

Bachelor's Degree

To become a physical therapist, you are required to hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. For most people, this will mean first completing a bachelor's degree before applying for a physical therapy degree.

How long does it take to become a physical therapist in Texas? ›

The D.P.T. is a 9-semester, 3-year, full-time graduate program. The program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education. Graduates are eligible to take the licensure examination upon completion of the degree.

Is becoming a physical therapist hard? ›

Getting into PT school isn't easy. For the 50% of people who are accepted into Physical Therapy school, you're in for a challenging 3 years.

Is it too late to become a physical therapist? ›

You can't actually turn back time, but through physical therapy, you can help slow down the aging process and limit natural degeneration so that you feel younger for longer. It's never too late to start a therapy program that improves your physical function.

Are physical therapist doctors? ›

So, since 2015, physical therapists are doctors, but they're not physicians. They undergo additional schooling as required for their specific professional practice just like any dentist, nurse, doctor, surgeon, optometrist, orthodontist, or therapist.

How long does it take to be a physical therapist assistant? ›

The length of a PTA program is typically two years (five semesters). Primary content areas in the curriculum may include, but are not limited to, anatomy, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, clinical pathology, behavioral sciences, communication, and ethics/values.

How much does physical therapy cost? ›

The national average per session cost of physical therapy can range from $30 - $400. However, with a qualified insurance plan, once your deductible is met, your total out-of-pocket cost typically ranges from $20-$60. If you do not have insurance, you may be paying between $50-$155 out-of-pocket.

What does a physical therapist do? ›

Physical therapists examine each person and then develops a treatment plan to improve their ability to move, reduce or manage pain, restore function, and prevent disability. Physical therapists can have a profound effect on people's lives.

Is kinesiology a hard major? ›

Kinesiology can be a great major for students who want to work in the medical field or become physical therapists. It is a challenging and rewarding degree that can lead to many different career opportunities. Getting a kinesiology degree requires hard work and dedication, but it is well worth it in the end.

What does PT stand for? ›

Personal trainer, in fitness and bodybuilding.

How much do PTs make in Texas? ›

$65,497 is the 25th percentile. Salaries below this are outliers. $86,752 is the 75th percentile.

How do I get my PT license in Texas? ›

The PT License Process in Texas
  1. Step 1: Earn your Physical Therapy degree.
  2. Step 2: Apply for a license with The Texas Board of Physical Therapy Examiners.
  3. Step 3: Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)
  4. Step 4: Maintain and renew your license.

Do I have to go to medical school to become a physical therapist? ›

People can become a physical therapist by obtaining a master's or doctorate degree at a physical therapy school. However, the field of physical therapy is transitioning towards requiring all licensed physical therapists to obtain a doctorate degree.

Is physical therapy harder than nursing? ›

Physical therapists usually require more education than nurses. In the United States, physical therapy students must complete a doctoral degree, which often takes about seven years. A nurse may practice at much lower levels of education—the fastest route for starting a career in nursing is a two-year associate degree.

What are disadvantages of being a physical therapist? ›

Cons of Being a Physical Therapist
  • Extensive Education Requirements. In order to become a physical therapist, you must attain a Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy (DPT). ...
  • Demanding Work. A job as a physical therapist is demanding both physically and mentally. ...
  • Maintaining Licensure. ...
  • Insurance Rules and Regulations.

Is OT or PT school harder? ›

As for your path to becoming an OT or PT, therapy school for PTs is currently more extensive and will require a doctorate, while OT will require a Master's.

At what age do physical therapists retire? ›

The average age to begin a career as a physical therapist is about 25 because that is when they would be out of grad school. The average age to retire is about 60 ears old.

At what age do people become physical therapist? ›

Starting Physical Therapy School In Your 30's And 40's

While the average age of physical therapy student is about 25, there are plenty who are in their mid-thirties and on up into their forties. It isn't too late to start school past your twenties. The time frame for becoming a physical therapist is only seven years.

What age group are most physical therapists patients? ›

What age group are most physical therapists patients?
  • 36.1% over 65 years old.
  • 25% between 20 and 64 years old.
  • 26.7% between 18 and 49 years old.
  • 6.6% between 11 and 17 years old.
  • 4.1% between 2 and 10 years old.
  • 1.5% under 2 years old.
5 days ago

What do you call a physical therapist? ›

A Physical Therapist, a PT, is a licensed healthcare professional that completed a graduate program to help patients reduce pain and restore or improve mobility. A DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy, is now the entry level for the professional degree for physical therapists.

What do physical therapists do on a daily basis? ›

Physical therapists work with patients to improve their movement and manage their pain. PTs use a variety of techniques to help their patients, including hands-on therapy, strengthening and stretching exercises, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, ice/heat, and much more.

Why do you want to be a physical therapist? ›

Physical therapists form relationships with patients while helping them on their journey to recovery. This can create a fun work environment and also help establish trust with the patient. People with extroverted personalities may find greater job satisfaction through a career in physical therapy.

Is PT assistant worth it? ›

Physical therapist assistants have solid earning potential

This position commands a respectable salary—the BLS reports a median annual salary of $58,040 for physical therapist assistants in 2018. Those working in nursing care facilities and home healthcare services earned the most.

Is PTA stressful? ›

Being a physical therapist assistant is emotionally demanding sometimes. Many patients are in pain and facing uncertainty about their health. Some may even be short-tempered.

What makes a good physical therapist assistant? ›

Ability to lift patients and help them move. Ability to read and execute detailed instructions. Good interpersonal skills. Excellent verbal and written communication.

How many times a week should you go to physical therapy? ›

A typical order for physical therapy will ask for 2-3 visits per week for 4-6 weeks. Sometimes the order will specify something different. What generally happens is for the first 2-3 weeks, we recommend 3x per week. This is because it will be the most intensive portion of your treatment.

Can physical therapy be done at home? ›

Home-care physical therapy occurs when a physical therapist comes to your home to provide rehabilitation services. This type of service is reserved for patients who are unable to leave the house to attend PT.

How do you do pelvic floor therapy? ›

Follow these steps:
  1. Begin by emptying your bladder.
  2. Tighten the pelvic floor muscles and hold for a count of 10.
  3. Relax the muscles completely for a count of 10.
  4. Do 10 repetitions, 3 to 5 times a day (morning, afternoon, and night).
14 Oct 2020

What are 5 things physical therapist do? ›

The responsibilities of a physical therapist include:

Consulting with patients to learn about their physical condition and symptoms. Diagnosing movement dysfunction and developing a treatment plan. Teaching patients how to properly use therapeutic exercise techniques. Providing stimulation or massage to promote healing.

Can physical therapists give injections? ›

Interested physical therapists must be affiliated with a supervising physician, podiatrist, or entity that is currently licensed to possess and administer vaccines.

How can a physical therapist make more money? ›

8 ways to make extra money as a physical therapist
  1. Pick up extra physical therapy shifts. ...
  2. Provide telehealth services. ...
  3. Become a physical therapy consultant. ...
  4. Offer home therapy services. ...
  5. Become a personal trainer. ...
  6. Become a first aid course instructor. ...
  7. Get into healthcare and physical therapy freelance writing.
1 Nov 2021

What major is the hardest? ›

What Are the 10 Most Difficult College Majors?
  • Chemistry – 2.78 GPA.
  • Mathematics – 2.90.
  • Economics – 2.95.
  • Biology – 3.02.
  • Geology – 3.03.
  • Philosophy – 3.08.
  • Finance – 3.08.
  • Physics – 3.10.
17 Sept 2022

What famous person has a degree in kinesiology? ›

25. Eva Longoria got a degree in kinesiology and a master's in Chicano studies. She went to Texas A&M for kinesiology (random) and Cal State Northridge for her master's, where she wrote a thesis called "Success STEMS From Diversity: The Value of Latinas in STEM Careers."

Is a masters in kinesiology worth it? ›

Professionals who obtain a master's degree in kinesiology are well prepared for a variety of careers, and for that reason, salaries will vary. That said, equipped with graduate-level credentials, you can expect to make thousands of dollars more a year compared to professionals who hold only a bachelor's degree.

What does PT mean in the Bible? ›

Bible Abbreviations in New Testament
Matthew – Mt./Matt.Mark – Mk./Mrk.
Titus – Titus/Tit./Ti.Philemon – Philemon/ Philem./Phm./Pm.
Hebrews – HebJames – Jas./Jm.
1 Peter – 1 Pet./1 Pe./1 Pt./1 P.2 Peter – 2 Pet./2 Pe./2 Pt./2 P.
1 John – 1 Jn./1 Jhn./1 J.2 John – 2 Jn./2 Jhn./2 J.
9 more rows

What is PT subject? ›

The Full form of PT is Physical Training. It is a subject taught in schools to improve physical fitness of students. Physical exercise as well class room sessions are given to students to improve their physical fitness, sports etc.

What is PT in math? ›

# The point of intersection of lines L1 and L2.

What physical therapy setting pays the most? ›

Here are four physical therapist job settings that typically offer high salaries: Nursing homes: Physical therapists who work in nursing homes provide care primarily to geriatric patients. Home health care: Physical therapists in home health care travel to their patients' homes to provide care.

What is the highest paid job in Texas? ›

The highest-paying jobs in the Lone Star State compete quite well with highest paying jobs in other states. The highest paying job in Texas — cardiologist — earns a cool $361,990 a year on average.

How many times can you take the Npte in Texas? ›

You may not practice again until you pass the exam. The Board does not issue second Temporary Licenses or extend them. You may only take the exam three times in a 12-month period. Contact the FSBPT to check your eligibility for scheduling an exam.

What can a PTA do in Texas? ›

A PTA can provide physical therapy services only under the direction and supervision of a PT. A physical therapy aide or technician is a person not licensed by this Board who has on-the-job training and aids in the provision of physical therapy services only with onsite supervision of a PT or PTA.

What to do after you pass the Npte? ›

There's nothing you can do now after you have submitted the exam. So rather than dwelling on the past, let's have you focus on a positive outcome or how you want life to be after passing the exam. Shifting your mind will help lead to changes coming your way.

Is becoming a physical therapist hard? ›

Getting into PT school isn't easy. For the 50% of people who are accepted into Physical Therapy school, you're in for a challenging 3 years.

How long is physical therapy? ›

In the outpatient physical therapy setting, your session of physical therapy will generally last from 30-60 minutes, but longer is not always better. The quality and intensity of your physical therapy session can also vary.

How long does it take to become a physical therapist assistant? ›

The length of a PTA program is typically two years (five semesters). Primary content areas in the curriculum may include, but are not limited to, anatomy, physiology, exercise physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, neuroscience, clinical pathology, behavioral sciences, communication, and ethics/values.

Are physical therapist doctors? ›

So, since 2015, physical therapists are doctors, but they're not physicians. They undergo additional schooling as required for their specific professional practice just like any dentist, nurse, doctor, surgeon, optometrist, orthodontist, or therapist.

How long does it take to become a physical therapist in Georgia? ›

Physical therapy education is a three-year doctoral program at the end of which you will receive a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree.

Is PT assistant worth it? ›

Physical therapist assistants have solid earning potential

This position commands a respectable salary—the BLS reports a median annual salary of $58,040 for physical therapist assistants in 2018. Those working in nursing care facilities and home healthcare services earned the most.

What makes a good physical therapist assistant? ›

Ability to lift patients and help them move. Ability to read and execute detailed instructions. Good interpersonal skills. Excellent verbal and written communication.

What do you call a physical therapist? ›

A Physical Therapist, a PT, is a licensed healthcare professional that completed a graduate program to help patients reduce pain and restore or improve mobility. A DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy, is now the entry level for the professional degree for physical therapists.

What do physical therapists do on a daily basis? ›

Physical therapists work with patients to improve their movement and manage their pain. PTs use a variety of techniques to help their patients, including hands-on therapy, strengthening and stretching exercises, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, ice/heat, and much more.

How much does physical therapy cost? ›

The national average per session cost of physical therapy can range from $30 - $400. However, with a qualified insurance plan, once your deductible is met, your total out-of-pocket cost typically ranges from $20-$60. If you do not have insurance, you may be paying between $50-$155 out-of-pocket.

How much is GA PT school? ›

Cost
In-StateOut-State
Tuition 1:$39,318$130,544
Fees:$9,576$9,576
Living:$39,795$39,795
Total:$88,689$179,915
28 Jun 2015

How do I get my PT license in Georgia? ›

The PT License Process in Georgia
  1. Step 1: Earn your Physical Therapy degree.
  2. Step 2: Apply for a license with the Georgia State Board of Physical Therapy.
  3. Step 3: Pass the required exams for Georgia.
  4. Step 4: Maintain and renew your license.

How much do DPT make in Georgia? ›

In Georgia, where the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at PCOM Georgia is located, the average physical therapist salary was $93,980 according to BLS data as of May 2021.

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