How to Choose the Best Physical Therapist Degree?

This article describes the many advantages of earning a graduate degree in physical therapy. It will discuss the types of degree available, specialties, advantages of earning the degree, and accreditation.

What Is a Physical Therapy Degree?

A degree in physical therapy (PT) teaches you the many techniques and skills  that are needed to examine patients effectively and develop a strong plan of care that reduces pain, restores function, prevents disability and promotes healthy movement of the body.

A degree in physical therapy teaches you how to work effectively with the patient, family and other health care providers to ensure that the patient recovers as much freedom of motion as possible in the affected body area. This is very important for that person to enjoy as productive a life as possible.

The cornerstone of all PT degree programs is therapeutic exercise and functional training. Depending upon the needs of the patient, a PT may perform passive manipulation of a joint to promote better function and movement. A PT degree also covers other techniques including electrotherapy, ultrasound, hot packs and ice. PTs are also taught how to prevent loss of mobility by coming up with effective fitness and wellness programs to keep patients healthy and active.

Why Earn a Physical Therapy Degree?

The field of physical therapy is experiencing explosive growth. This is in line with the increase in demand for all healthcare services as the population of the US generally is growing older and living longer.

Physical therapy is a strongly needed speciality among the older population. These patients have more surgeries,  and joint replacements and treatments than the rest of the US population, so they have a strong need for physical therapy after the procedure. More older people also have strokes and heart attacks, and they also require the services of a physical therapist. Physical therapy is absolutely essential for people to regain maximum range of motion after an accident or surgical procedure.

Because of the higher demand for physical therapy, employment of physical therapists is set to grow by 34% by 2024. This means we should see at least 72,000 new physical therapist positions by 2024. This is an explosive growth rate that makes PT a fantastic career choice for healthcare professionals who want to have endless job demand and good salaries.

With a graduate degree in physical therapy, you also will be able to find work in outpatient surgery, which is used often today to treat many illnesses and injuries. Advances in medical technology also are expected to allow more trauma victims and premature babies with birth defects to survive. This should cause more demand for rehabilitative care.

The pay for PTs is also excellent, with a median salary of $85,000. The top earners with many years of work experience can garner as much as $120,000 per year.

Choosing Your Degree Path

All physical therapists must earn their Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. As of 2015, there were more than 200 PT programs available that have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). This is the primary accreditation body for physical therapy programs.

DPT programs last three years, and you need to have a bachelor’s degree, ideally in a healthcare related field but this is not essential. There are some physical therapy programs that will admit a freshman in college into a six year or seven year program that allow students to graduate with their bachelor’s and DPT degree.

As of 2016, all licensed therapists have to earn their DPT degree, so there are no other degree options other than that. However, there are some online DPT degree programs so that you can earn your degree while continuing to work full time.

Generally, you can expect a curriculum in your DPT program to focus on the following:

  • Biology and anatomy
  • Cellular histology
  • Physiology
  • Exercise physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathology
  • Clinical reasoning
  • Endocrine and metabolic systems
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary systems

After you graduate from your DPT program, you must earn your license. State requirements vary, but all aspiring PTs have to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination exam that is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Many states also require you to take an exam on health law and pass a criminal background check.

Online DPT Degree Options

An excellent online DPT program to consider is offered at Northeastern University. This is a three year, 100% online program that integrates both professional and experiential education.

Core courses in this program include medical screening and differential diagnosis, diagnostic imaging, nutrition and motor control. It also features a capstone course called Comprehensive Case Analysis that is a culmination of everything you learn in the DPT curriculum. Students are required to prepare a comprehensive case report as a requirement to graduate.

Specific required classes are:

  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical Nutrition
  • Pediatric Nutrition
  • Motor Control
  • Research Methods and Statistical Analysis
  • Fostering Change in Health Behavior
  • Educational Strategies for Effective Health Care Delivery
  • Sports and Fitness Nutrition
  • Health Aging: Nutrition Strategies for Optimal Longevity

To be admitted, you must provide the following:

  • Statement of purpose
  • Professional resume
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • All academic transcripts

Accreditation

As noted earlier, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is the major accreditation body that has been recognized by the US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit schools of physical therapy.

It is important to ensure that your DPT program has been accredited by the CAPTE so that you and prospective employers know that you have had the education that you need to be a skilled physical therapist.

Summary

There is no question whatsoever that the physical therapy field is one that is full of opportunity for the professional interested in a health care career with high demand and good pay. There are more physical therapy patients than there are physical therapists to serve them. So, now is a great time to get going on your physical therapy career.

Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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