Online Doctor of Physical and Occupational Therapy Programs

Online Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs may be available as first- and post-professional degrees. First professional doctorate degrees in physical and occupational therapy could help students work towards an initial state licensure. Post-professional online Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) programs might enable currently licensed professionals to expand knowledge, skills and experience.

How to earn a doctorate degree in Physical & Occupational Therapywritten by Rana Waxman

Online Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Programs: The Basics

Typically, online Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs are structured to appeal to busy professionals who want to build or enhance rehabilitative skills while they maintain a work-life balance. That said, there are different ways that online Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs may be formatted.

Some programs are flexible and might meld online coursework with face-to-face hands-on instruction at a student’s preferred campus. These may be structured with an online/weekend schedule which may be perfect for individuals who choose not to relocate to campus. Students could learn online, when and where they want to, then meet fellow students on campus for their clinical education. Other programs may be completely online with no residency requirement. Make sure to read through descriptions to see what your program entails.

Online Doctor of Physical Therapy Programs

Online Doctor of Physical Therapy programs may be referred to as post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy (ppDPT) or transitional (tDPT) programs. A tDPT degree program could be configured around the unique needs of a current professional. It might therefore allow students to either complete classes one at a time, or at an accelerated pace.

What Is the Difference Between PT and DPT?


transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy degree is typically designed for those who already hold a professional Bachelor or Master of Physical Therapy (PT or MPT) degree. These students may have earned their degree prior to 2015. As of 2015, all physical therapist programs are DPT programs due to the Vision 2020 statement by the American Physical Therapy Association. APTA proposed that by 2020, physical therapy will be provided by (licensed) physical therapists who are Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program graduates.i

What Might I Learn in an Online ppDPT Program?

Whereas residential DPT programs may follow a three-year course curriculum, an online tDPT program may be more customized and student-centric. For instance, distance students in some schools may take a series of courses online and, then, come to campus for a physical therapy practicum course under the guidance of their faculty. In other universities, students might look over all the DPT courses, then select ones for their academic degree plan. Below is a sample of possible course topics, but make sure to review each school’s curriculum.

  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Pharmacology and Pathophysiology
  • Extremity Manual Therapy
  • Spinal Manual Therapy
  • Pediatric Physical Therapy

Aside from courses, online students may need to complete a capstone. This graduate capstone course could enable students to focus evidence-based instruction in an area of physical therapy that aligns with his or her professional interests and career goals. Often, it is submitted as a manuscript.

Online Physical Therapy Schools: Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for post-professional online doctor of physical therapy programs may vary. In some schools, candidates need a Bachelors degree or higher from a regionally accredited college or university or from an equally recognized program. Applicants may need to furnish proof of state licensure as a physical therapist or proof of eligibility to sit for licensure in the U.S. Other material that individuals might need to submit could draw from the items listed below, but interested students should check with individual online physical therapy schools for exact requirements.

  • Official transcripts, minimum GPA
  • Essay
  • References
  • Expanded portfolio
  • TOEFL (if applicable)

Online Doctor of Physical Therapy programs may be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).ii

Why an Online tDPT Degree?

Physical therapists who are already licensed may want to continue their education in a board-certified clinical area such as orthopedics, sports, or geriatrics. Continued education is also required for physical therapists to keep their license. ii

Online Occupational Therapy Doctoral Programs

Online Occupational Therapy Doctorate programs might include Bachelor to OTD (bridge programs) and post-professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) programs. Some doctoral programs might take about three years to complete, although this is likely to vary. iii Students with less experience may have more courses to take, and some online learners may need to pursue their OTD on a part-time basis.

Online Bachelor to OTD (Bridge) Programs

Bachelor to OTD programs are typically designed for experienced occupational therapists who already hold a Bachelor's degree in Occupational Therapy but not a Master's degree. Before they enter a bridge program, students may need to take prerequisite courses in occupation-based models, academic writing, and evidence-based practice.

Online Post-Professional OTD Programs

A post-professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) online program is typically structured to connect to a professional student’s practice focus. In some universities, the online OTD is a 30 to 36 credit (10 - 12 course) program which may include core and elective courses and a capstone project. Often the capstone is centered around a student’s career interests whether this is leadership, advocacy, ethics, or a specific clinical area.

What Might I Learn in an Online OTD Program?

Core courses in online Occupational Therapy Doctoral programs could help students further their grasp of current research and key concepts in their field. While course names vary, it might help to review the examples of potential topics below, then refer to individual online OT schools to see their syllabus.

  • Evidence-based practice
  • Occupational science
  • Community practice
  • Bioethics
  • Leadership and advocacy
  • Professional writing

Beyond the core courses, students may be able to choose a track, or concentration, that lines up with career goals or interests. These are not the same everywhere, so make sure to scout a few schools. Below are a few examples to get you started.

Administration: Students who pursue an online OTD with a focus in administration might start out with a course in healthcare economics and finance, which could provide an overview of how to apply financial management theory and principles to organizational decisions. Other courses could cover the various components of the U.S. healthcare system. Students might also learn how to use statistical tools to determine optimum ways to reduce cost, improve processes, and increase client satisfaction.

Education: An online OTD with a focus in higher education might introduce students to college and university administration, both in terms of internal governance and external influencers. For instance, students might learn about power and how to form policy decisions. A course in higher education curriculum development might cover various models to help students refine their grasp of how to plan, design and implement lessons. Other courses could highlight student affairs, enrollment management, academic affairs, and marketing.

Mental Health: Online students who pursue an OTD in mental health might take courses that explore the uses of research in evidence-based practice. A course in the application of occupational science might examine the clinical uses of the occupational therapy practice framework. Students might also take a course in community practice, which might discuss program development, business basics and entrepreneurship.

Online Occupational Therapy Schools: Admission Requirements 

Admission to an online OTD program is likely to vary between schools. In some universities, applicants need to have successfully completed an entry-level, accredited occupational therapy program at the Master's or Baccalaureate degree level. Or, if the entry level program is not at the Master level, the student must have completed a Master level program in a related field (i.e., psychology).

Further requirements could include a minimum of one year of full time clinical experience, and a copy of your NBCOT certificate or state license. Other material could include the items below, but make sure to check with individual schools.

  • All undergraduate and graduate transcripts (minimum GPA)
  • An original essay
  • A writing sample
  • Recommendations
  • Resume/curriculum vitae
  • Interview with program coordinator
  • TOEFL scores (where applicable)

Why an Online OTD Degree?

Currently, occupational therapists must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Occupational Therapist, Registered” (OTR). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification. OTs who want to be eligible to take the NBCOT certification (OTR) exam need to have earned an entry-level Masters or Entry-level Doctorate degree from an accredited educational program, and completed all fieldwork.iii

If this is your goal, you could check with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT), and look for programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. iii


When surveyed about their education, 37% of Chief Physical Therapists stated they had a Doctoral Degree iv while 5% of Occupational Therapists report they have a professional degree.v

Online Doctor of Athletic Training Programs

An online Doctor of Athletic Training (DAT) degree is a terminal degree for athletic trainers. Unlike a PhD which focuses on scholarly research, a DAT program could meld clinical and academic components with an eye to applied research. Consequently, it may enable graduates to find practical solutions to the delivery of athletic healthcare and the health outcomes of physically active individuals and their communities.

What Might I Learn in an Online DAT Program?

Students who pursue a Doctor of Athletic Training degree online might take about 70 credit hours. Courses might be weighted to a study of real-world applications of athletic training practices. In some schools, coursework could be found under four specific categories: (1) Clinical decision-making, (2) Orthopedic rehabilitation, (3) Professional leadership, and (4) Applied research.

Clinical decision making courses could stress quality improvement as it relates to patient health and safety, system performance and care, and professional development. A course in health information technology could provide an overview of relevant concepts, tools, and systems of healthcare informatics that may be useful to make clinical decisions.

Orthopedic rehabilitation courses might discuss orthopedic science and the biology that underlies connective tissue healing. This might include topics such as histology, morphology and biomechanics. Students might study to fortify their ability to plan and implement a sports injury rehabilitation program from the scientific point of view. Other potential topics could include the ones itemized below.

  • Surgical considerations
  • Assessment of movement dysfunctions
  • Corrective Techniques

Leadership courses might aim to help students refine their grasp of injury patterns and epidemiological concepts such as risk factors and rate ratios. Students might also take courses in healthcare policy and professionalism.

Applied research courses might help students prepare for their final project. These courses might cover research methods and design, data analysis, and qualitative research methodology. Students might therefore study how to analyze a problem, propose a solution, implement and evaluate the solution, and present their conclusions to others.

Admission to Online DAT Programs

Admission to universities with online Doctor of Athletic Training degree programs could vary. In some schools, applicants need to have earned a Master's degree or higher from an accredited institution, and will need to furnish those transcripts. Also, candidates of an online Athletic Training program might first need to demonstrate that they have earned their Board of Certification (BOC) as athletic trainers. Candidates may also need to provide proof of state licensure if this is required in their state of residence. Other possible requirements might include letters of reference, minimum GPA, phone interview, and TOEFL scores, if applicable.

Some online Doctor of Athletic Training programs may be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).vi

Why an Online DAT Degree?

One does not need a doctorate to be eligible to sit for the Board of Certification (BOC) exam. However, already credentialed post-professional programs may help graduates “expand the depth and breadth of their applied, experiential, and propositional knowledge and skills.”vii This may be furthered through the final DAT degree applied research project that addresses a clinical issue relevant to athletic training practice.

Take the Next Step

Ready to compare Online Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs? First select from the menu a type of online degree (i.e., Doctor of Physical Therapy, Doctor of Occupational Therapy, Doctor of Athletic Training). Then, review the sponsored programs in that category. From there, all you need to do is fill out the on-page form to easily connect with online OT and DPT schools right away. Take the next step now.

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