Physical Therapist Training Programs and Requirements

Physical therapists assist patients with rehabilitation to improve overall mobility and range of motion. Students interested in pursuing physical therapist careers must complete certain educational and certification requirements.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

Students interested in becoming physical therapists usually begin by enrolling in undergraduate degree programs with emphasis in health or science-related fields. In order to practice, students must then complete accredited physical therapy graduate degree programs. Physical therapists must be certified in order to legally practice.

Formal Education

The Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredits master's and doctoral degree programs in physical therapy. The majority of physical therapy students complete doctoral degrees in the field. Some may practice with only master's degrees.

Master's Degree

The Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) is a 2-year, graduate degree program that prepares students for practice as physical therapists. Although less common than the Doctor of Physical Therapy, an MPT degree program introduces students to relevant topics, including neurological physical therapy, cardiopulmonary physical therapy and psychosocial issues in physical therapy. MPT students engage in full-time clinical experiences in order to gain hands-on patient care skills.

Doctoral Degree

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is the most common degree program completed by physical therapy students. This program generally lasts three years and offers courses in topics like biomechanics, neuroscience and movement science. Students generally engage in clinical internships during all three years of study. Some universities offer accelerated DPT programs where students complete both their bachelor's and DPT degrees in five years.

Job Experience

Physical therapists must gain clinical experience working with patients before practicing on their own. Much of this experience comes from internships completed during graduate study. Physical therapists should be comfortable working closely with patients before entering the workforce.

Licenses and Certifications

All states require physical therapists to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) before working legally. Therapists must also hold graduate degrees from accredited physical therapy programs. Depending on the state in which the physical therapist plans to work, there may be other requirements, such as additional examinations.

Workshops and Seminars

A variety of workshops, both online and onsite, are available to physical therapists. Because technological advances in the delivery of physical therapy are common, workshops often address these advances. Seminars may also be available in patient interaction and physical therapy cost control.

Additional Professional Development

Many states require physical therapists to complete continuing education hours each year to maintain their certifications. Classes may be available at local colleges or online. A physical therapist may choose to become certified in a particular area of the field, such as electrophysiology or geriatric therapy.

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