The Journey to Becoming a Physical Therapist
I have been asked several times how many years or what degree I have to become a physical therapist. Did you know that physical therapists have been graduating from PT programs with doctorate degrees for almost 15 years? This is something that I have found most patients don’t know. Just like the cost of higher education, the number of years required to get a degree in physical therapy has also increased over the years.
Physical therapy has slowly increased from a bachelor’s degree to a clinical doctorate degree. This means that 4 years of undergraduate work is completed, then the student applies to and starts a graduate program in physical therapy. The application process is highly competitive as many applicants apply each year and programs only accept a set number of students for each class. Physical therapy graduate programs range between 3 and 3.5 years of full time course work depending on the school.
During the program, physical therapy students take multiple classes to learn about the musculoskeletal system, neurological system, cardiovascular system, physical therapy tests and measures, therapeutic exercise, modalities, manual therapy techniques, and differential diagnosis. Physical therapy students also complete 9+ months of clinical education work where they treat patients in a clinical setting and are supervised by a clinical instructor. These classes and clinical experiences allow physical therapists to provide the best quality evidence-based treatment to their patients. Physical therapists also learn to recognize symptoms that cannot be treated with physical therapy and when to refer a patient back to their physician for further testing.
After graduation, physical therapy students take a national physical therapy board exam in order to obtain their license to practice. This career path encourages therapists to become lifelong learners through continuing education courses and post-graduate certifications.