How to Become a Physical Therapist

There are many advantages to a career as a physical therapist. Physical therapists benefit from working in a field where they are in demand and reap the many rewards of helping people recover from injuries or navigate serious health conditions. U.S. News & World Report has ranked physical therapist #21 on its list of 100 Best Jobs, citing that the field has an unemployment rate of only 1.6 percent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meanwhile, points out that the median income for physical therapists is more than $91,000 and that job growth in the field is expected to be 21 percent between 2020 and 2030.

Physical therapy is not a career with low barriers to entry, however. To the contrary, becoming a physical therapist entails hard work and dedication. And those who are interested in entering the field need to be aware of the education, time and multiple steps required to successfully launch a career as a physical therapist. 

Here are some things you should consider if you are interested in becoming a physical therapist.

The education requirement. To become a physical therapist, you will need six to seven years of higher education. In addition to a field-relevant undergraduate degree, you will also need to attain a doctor’s degree (Doctor of Physical Therapy). These three-year advanced degree programs include courses in anatomy, physiology, rehabilitation sciences and pharmacology, among others. 

Another option is a “3+3” physical therapy program, which combines the undergraduate and doctoral degrees into a six-year period. Carlow offers a Pre-Physical Therapy major that can be completed in three years—the first half of a 3+3 program—and prepares students to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

Why a residency can make sense. After completing a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, many students apply for a residency or a fellowship to gain more hands-on experience and training, and to learn from experienced physical therapists. These programs also provide an opportunity to specialize in a specific area of the field. Among the many areas in which a physical therapist can specialize are geriatrics, neurology, sports, pediatrics and oncology.

Licensing and certification. To practice, a physical therapist must become licensed by passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which tests both theoretical and practical knowledge. Board certification is optional but can open the door to additional opportunities. Certification requires completion of the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience and successfully passing the certification exam. To stay up to date in this dynamic field, physical therapists may also need to complete continuing education credits.

Accelerate your path to a career as a physical therapist with a Bachelor of Science in Pre-Physical Therapy from Carlow University. This program, which can be completed in as little as three years, will prepare you for graduate-level studies or to work in the health care field. To become a physical therapist, you must get a doctor of physical therapy degree and pass a state licensure exam. Learn more about Carlow University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree here.

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