How to Become a Physical Therapist in 6 Simple Steps

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What is a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists’ work is to apply rehabilitation and exercise techniques to treat abnormalities and injuries that limit their patients’ ability to move.

Except mobility increasing and pain reducing, physical therapists promote healthy living and fitness to prevent disability.

The daily roles of a physical therapist are:

  • Determining the diagnosis by reviewing patients’ medical records and physicians’ referral.
  • Planning and carry out a treatment based on the diagnosis he has done.
  • Evaluating the effects of the treatment at various stages.
  • Counseling patients and their family about exercises and other treatment procedures that should be continued at home.
  • Referring patients to other healthcare professionals and community services.
  • Supervising and coordinate supportive personnel like physical therapy assistants
  • Scheduling appointments with clients.
  • Ordering the necessary equipment.

Physical therapists need to have strong problem solving skills as their patients will visit them because they have a health problem that has to be solved. They have to evaluate this problem and come with the best solution.

They also need to pay attention to details. As healthcare professionals even the smallest mistake can cause problems to their patients’ well-being, so they need to be extremely careful and pay attention to the details.

And lastly, communication and organizational skills are required for getting in touch with clients that are suffering. They have to earn their trust and make them feel comfortable when receiving treatment.

Physical therapists work mostly full time at various healthcare establishments like: private offices, hospitals and fitness facilities.

The average salary of a physical therapist is $82,390
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Becoming a Physical Therapist

Step 1: High School Preparation

High School Courses for Physical Therapists

The most common way of becoming a physical therapist is to complete a 3 years doctor of physical therapy degree program.

The admission requirements for these programs are a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field.

So the first thing you have to accomplish when in high school is to take the courses and grades that will get you accepted to a good bachelor’s degree program.

Science courses

Science courses are the main requirements of all physical therapy programs.

Biology, chemistry, anatomy and physics are the most common prerequisites for acceptance.

Taking these classes will also help you during your studies where you will have courses like neuroscience, pathology, physiology and cardiovascular systems.

Math classes

Advanced Algebra and trigonometry are some classes you should consider taking during high school.

Math is the basis of all science classes so without a solid foundation of math you won’t be able to understand complex science theories needed for physical therapists.

Physical Education Classes

Because physical therapy is not a desk job you will need to have increased physical stamina, which can be achieved only through exercising.

Being in shape from a young age is a really god idea for physical therapists.

Communication classes

As we mentioned before a big part of your work as a physical therapist will be communicating with patients.

Courses like English and communication will help you develop the communication skills that are vital for this profession.
What is a Physical Therapist

Step 2: Get an Undergraduate Degree

Bachelor’s degree program 4 years

While there are no undergraduate Physical therapist degree programs if you want to get accepted to a doctor of physical therapy degree program you will need a bachelor’s degree.

The American Physical Therapy Association recommends choosing a bachelor’s degree where you will complete the prerequisite classes of the doctor of physical therapy degree program of your choice.

The most common undergraduate majors aspiring physical therapists choose are: psychology, science and kinesiology.

Entry-Level Physical Therapy (DPT) program 6 years

These are 190 to 225 semester credit hour programs and can be completed on campus.

These programs offer both undergraduate and doctor of physical therapy degrees.

The first 3 years are the undergraduate degree where you will complete all the prerequisite courses of the DPT.

The last 3 years you will have a typical Doctor’s of physical therapy training.

While the admission requirements vary from school to school the most commons are a high school diploma with a GPA of at least 3 and completed courses like: physiology, anatomy, physics, psychology and chemistry.

Curriculum

First 3 years (pre-requisite courses – 95 credits)

  • Introductory Biology for Health Sciences
  • Principles of General Chemistry
  • Writing Seminar
  • Freshman Year Experience
  • Introduction to the Health and Rehabilitation Professions or PDP
  • College Algebra
  • Trigonometry
  • Calculus for the Life Sciences
  • Human Anatomy
  • Principles of Organic and Biochemistry
  • General Psychology
  • Writing and Research Seminar
  • Human Physiology
  • Elementary Physics 1
  • Elementary Physics 2
  • Health and Disability Across the Lifespan
  • Abnormal Behavior in Rehabilitation
  • Statistics or Intro to Experimental Design in Psychology
  • Organization and Delivery of Health Care in the U.S.
  • Biomechanics of Human Movement
  • Gross Human Anatomy
  • Preclinical Experience
  • Physical Therapy Examination
  • Functional Anatomy

Last 3 years (DPT courses- 125 credits)

  • Clinical Medicine I
  • Evidence Based Practice I
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary System I
  • Musculoskeletal System I
  • Integrated Clinical Experience I
  • Clinical Medicine II
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary System II
  • Musculoskeletal System II
  • Neuroscience for Physical Therapy Students
  • Integrated Clinical Experience II
  • Clinical Experience: AT
  • Evidence Based Practice II
  • Scientific Basis of Human Movement
  • Diagnostic Procedures for Rehabilitation Professionals
  • Neurological System I
  • Clinical Education Seminar I
  • Foundations of Education and Health Promotion
  • Musculoskeletal System III
  • Neurological System II
  • Academic Practicum I
  • Clinical Education Seminar II
  • Clinical Education Experience 2
  • Health Care Management – PT
  • Pediatrics
  • Comprehensive Clinical Reasoning
  • Academic Practicum II
  • Clinical Education Seminar III
  • Clinical Education Internship

The cost of an Entry-Level Physical Therapy (DPT) program is between $162,000 and $205,950.

Make sure to contact a university and ask them all the questions you have before you enroll.

Click the button below to get free info about accredited Entry-Level Physical Therapy (DPT) programs near you.
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Step 3: Get a Physical Therapist Graduate Degree

Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree program 3 years

Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree programs are 125 to 156 semester credit hours programs that can be completed on campus.

It is fairly difficult to get accepted to a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree program as you will need a bachelor’s degree in science field with a GPA of at least 3, 0, you will also need to have completed prerequisite courses with at least “C” (2,0).

The most common prerequisite courses are: 2 semesters with lecture and laboratory of general and an upper level Biology, 2 semesters with lecture and laboratory of human anatomy and physiology, 2 semesters with lecture and laboratory of general chemistry, 2 semesters with lecture and laboratory of general physics, 2 semesters with lecture and laboratory of general psychology and upper-level psychology, one course of English composition or upper level writing course.

Curriculum

  • Foundations of Physical Therapy Evaluation
  • Clinical Anatomy I
  • Concepts in Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Pharmacology
  • Integumentary Therapeutics
  • Seminar in Evidence-Based Practice I
  • Clinical Anatomy II
  • Neurosciences
  • Therapeutic Exercise
  • Seminar in Evidence-Based Practice II
  • Functional Neuro-Biomechanical Relationships
  • Health Care Economics in Physical Therapy Practice
  • Differential Diagnosis in Physical Therapy
  • Seminar in Professional Development
  • Clerkship
  • Doctoral Research
  • Life Cycle I
  • Musculoskeletal Therapeutics I
  • Cardiopulmonary Therapeutics
  • Neurophysiological Therapeutics I
  • Seminar in Case Presentations
  • Doctoral Research
  • Life Cycle II
  • Musculoskeletal Therapeutics II
  • Neurophysiological Therapeutics II
  • Prosthetics and Orthotics
  • Medical Therapeutics in Physical Therapy Practice
  • Psychosocial Aspects of Rehabilitation
  • Doctoral Research
  • Interventions in Musculoskeletal Therapeutics
  • Interventions in Neuromuscular Therapeutics
  • Physical Therapy Organization and Administration
  • Doctoral Research
  • Doctoral Project
  • Clinical Internship
  • Doctoral Project
  • Clinical Internship

The cost of a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree program ranges between $45,000 and $150,800.

Make sure to contact a university and ask them all the questions you have before you enroll.

Click the button below to get free info about accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree programs near you.
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Step 4: Get Physical Therapy licensing

All US states require physical therapists to be licensed.

Licensing requirements vary from state to state. Contact your local state’s board

Requirements

Examination

Pass the 250 computerized multiple question test.

Cost: $400

Step 5: Complete a Residency program

A great way to start learning the job after finishing studies is to attend a residency program.

Residencies are 1,500 hours of clinical physical therapy practice that can be completed into 9 to 36 months.

Residents at these programs diagnose, examine patients and educate patients on illnesses always under the supervision of licensed physical therapists.

Step 6: Become Certified

While it is not obligatory it is a good idea to become certified as you will have a proof of specialization in the field you like.

The certifications are issued by American Board of Physical Therapy Specialist, and there are 8 fields where you can get certified.

Cardiovascular and Pulmonary

Requirements

  • Be licensed
  • Hold an Advanced Cardiac Life Support certification.
  • Evidence of participation in a clinical data analysis project directly related to the cardiovascular and pulmonary specialty area within the last ten years.
  • 2,000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed physical therapist in the specialty area within the last ten years, 500 of which must have occurred within the last three years.

OR

  • Successful completion of an APTA-accredited post professional Cardiovascular and Pulmonary clinical residency.

Examination

Contact ABPTS

Cost: $ 1,315 (APTA Member) $2,385 (non APTA member)

Clinical Electrophysiologic

Requirements

  • Be licensed
  • Submit evidence of clinical education experience in electrophysiologic testing
  • Submit actual patient reports that have been completed within the last three years
  • 2,000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed physical therapist in the specialty area within the last ten years, 500 of which must have occurred within the last three years.

OR

  • Successful completion of an APTA-accredited post professional Cardiovascular and Pulmonary clinical residency.

Examination

Contact ABPTS

Cost: $ 1,315 (APTA Member) $2,385 (non APTA member)

Geriatrics, Neurological, Orthopedic and Pediatric

Requirements

  • Be licensed
  • 2,000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed physical therapist in the specialty area within the last ten years, 500 of which must have occurred within the last three years.

OR

  • Successful completion of an APTA-accredited post professional Cardiovascular and Pulmonary clinical residency.

Examination

Contact ABPTS

Cost: $ 1,315 (APTA Member) $2,385 (non APTA member)

Sports

Requirements

  • Be licensed
  • Be certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) by the American Heart Association or American Red Cross
  • 2,000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed physical therapist in the specialty area within the last ten years, 500 of which must have occurred within the last three years.

OR

  • Successful completion of an APTA-accredited post professional Cardiovascular and Pulmonary clinical residency.

Examination

Contact ABPTS

Cost: $ 1,315 (APTA Member) $2,385 (non APTA member)

Women’s Health

Requirements

2,000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed physical therapist in the specialty area within the last ten years, 500 of which must have occurred within the last three years.

OR

Successful completion of an APTA-accredited post professional Cardiovascular and Pulmonary clinical residency.

Examination

Contact ABPTS

Cost: $ 1,315 (APTA Member) $2,385 (non APTA member)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Physical Therapist and How Much Does it Cost?

Degree Time Cost
Bachelor’s & PhD6 years$45,000 - $205,950
Certification 1 month $1,315 - $2,385
Total 4 years & 1 month$46,315 - $208,335
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