You don’t have to be a physician to have a valuable and essential role in the well-paying healthcare industry. Many different providers have the opportunity to make a difference in patients’ health, including physical therapists. These healthcare professionals work directly with patients who have chronic conditions or need rehabilitation to recover from a serious injury or illness. They help patients increase their range of motion. If you have the compassion, dexterity and resourcefulness to help patients perform therapeutic exercises, the only thing standing between you and a physical therapy career is earning the right degree and qualifications.
A Doctoral Degree
Aspiring physical therapists should expect to spend several years in school preparing for their career. A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree is essential for this role.
The first step to earning a DPT degree is to complete your undergraduate education. Some colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in physical therapy, but majoring in such a program is not required. Students often choose to study subjects like health sciences, physiology, biology, exercise science or another major that will include coursework in anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics and physiology. These subjects are common prerequisites for DPT programs, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
When students complete their undergraduate degree, they can apply to one of the more than 220 Doctor of Physical Therapy degree programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. During their doctoral education, students will gain real-world experience through clinical internships as well as studying anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, pharmacology and neuroscience in the classroom. Upon completing their DPT degree requirements, new physical therapists may spend a year gaining additional experience through a clinical residency program.
The DPT degree and the knowledge and clinical experience that accompany it are the most important things you will need to achieve your dream of being a physical therapist, but they’re not the only things. After graduating from a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, candidates must earn a license in the state in which they intend to practice. Different states have different requirements, but every state requires candidates to earn a passing score on the National Physical Therapy Examination, according to the BLS. In addition to earning a license and maintaining it through meeting continuing education requirements, some physical therapists choose to go above and beyond and earn certification in a specialty area from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties
Work in healthcare can be as financially rewarding as it is personally fulfilling, with professionals in the field earning an average of $2.6 million over their working lifetimes. Physical therapists, in particular, enjoy an exceptionally positive job outlook, with the BLS predicting a 36 percent increase in job opportunities over just 10 years. Pursuing a career as a physical therapist and finding the right path to that career are major decisions, but for the right candidate, they are also very worthwhile decisions.