Doctor of Physical Therapy Programs | DPT Degree

A doctorate of physical therapy degree, or DPT degree, has become the standard when it comes to physical therapy education to meet the increasingly high demands of modern ...

medical practices. And, as of 2015, those who wish to become physical therapists need a DPT degree to qualify to sit for the licensing exam.i If you are looking to jump start a career as a physical therapist, or just expand your knowledge, then DPT programs may be a great choice for you.

Doctor of Physical Therapy Programs

What is a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists play an important role in the medical industry because they help people rehabilitate from injuries, improve their motion, and manage their pain. They may also support patients with chronic conditions, injuries, and illnesses.i Those who are compassionate, dependable, and have a high stress tolerance, might want to consider earning a doctor of physical therapy degree.ii Your skills and knowledge could be put to use in a potentially growing field, while making a difference in patients’ lives.

In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment of physical therapists to increase 34% during the years 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. That’s because the baby boomer generation will likely remain active as they age. Additionally, medical technology and procedures may allow for more outpatient surgeries, which could require physical therapy.iii For these reasons, and many others, now may be a great time to explore doctorate of physical therapy programs.

Did You Know?

Physical therapy as a profession actually originated during World War I in response to the need created when our soldiers were injured in war. They were called “reconstruction aides”. 

Earning Your Doctorate of Physical Therapy Degree (DPT): The Basics

To practice as a physical therapist in the United States, you must earn a DPT degree from a CAPTE- accredited program and pass a state licensure exam. Masters degrees, such as the Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) or Master of Science of Physical Therapy, are no longer offered. iv  Typically, doctorate of physical therapy programs require students to have earned a bachelors degree before entry. Some may also request the completion of specific coursework, such as anatomy, physiology, and biology, among others.

Normally, DPT degrees take 3 years of full time study to complete. However, some schools may offer a 6 or 7-year program that allows students to graduate with a bachelors and a DPT degree.iv Schools vary, so contact your preferred DPT programs to learn if this might be an option.

Doctorate of Physical Therapy Curriculum

The primary areas of study in the DPT degree curriculum include, but aren’t limited, to the following.

  • Biomechanics
  • Physiology
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Biology and Anatomy
  • Pathology

Most Doctorate of physical therapy programs require students to spend about 80% of their time in classroom or didactic classes and lab study. The other 20%, or 27.5 weeks on average, may be spent in clinical education. Clinical experience may give students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world situations under the supervision of professionals. Contact programs for details.

Application Process for Doctorate of Physical Therapy Degree Programs

The application process for DPT programs is somewhat unique. Most schools require potential students to apply through the Physical Therapists Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).v The PTCAS is a service portion of the American Physical Therapy Association and allows applicants to use a single application and one set of materials to apply to multiple DPT programs. This could save potential students the time and hassle of filling out and filing multiple applications.vi

While the PTCAS doesn’t determine whether an applicant is eligible for admission to a certain program, or make admissions decisions, it does make it easier for both applicants and programs. For the PTCAS to consider an application complete and ready for transcript verification, the following items must be completed.

  • PTCAS application
  • Official transcripts from all accredited United States institutions attended
  • Payment of the PTCAS fee

Students may also post other materials required by certain schools that might help their chances. These could include the following.

  • Up to 4 letters of recommendation
  • Official GRE scores sent through the Education Testing Service
  • Signed PT observation hours
  • TOEFL scores

Application requirements vary by school, so contact DPT programs directly to learn more.

What's the Difference Between the DPT and tDPT (Transitional Doctorate of Physical Therapy) Degree?

There are two main types of doctorate in physical therapy degrees. The first is the doctorate of physical therapy, or DPT degree, which now all students are required to have in order to sit for the licensing exam. Besides this section, that is what the rest of this page is focused on. The second is a transitional doctorate of physical therapy, or tDPT degree, which has been created for those already working and licensed as physical therapists. This is also referred to as a post-professional DPT degree.

The tDPTprogram was created for those already working as physical therapists to provide them with the standard degree in the field. Prior work experience and knowledge are taken into account through the Physical Therapist Evaluation Tool (PTET). This allows applicants to show his or her knowledge, skills, and experience through a portfolio and a tasks-performed component. The PTET also might show skills applicants still need to learn to meet the standards of a tDPT degree. This may help students avoid having to duplicate knowledge by taking classes in areas they are already proficient in. However, requirements vary from program to program.

While tDPT programs are not accredited by CAPTE, often they are available at institutions that offer DPT programs that are. (Read on to learn more about CAPTE.) Also, CAPTE believes that regional accrediting bodies may hold tDPT programs to the same rigorous standards as DPTs. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), which is the governing body of CAPTE, provides all tDPT programs with a consensus-based outcome competencies document and a preferred curricular guide to help ensure high levels of consistency and quality.iv

Accreditations for DPT Degree Programs

Accrediting agencies strive to ensure that educational institutions provide students with the skills and knowledge potentially necessary in a field. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is the only accreditation agency recognized by the United State Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit entry-level physical therapist and physical therapist assistant programs.vii This accreditation process may help the public, students, institutions, and the profession as a whole ensure quality educational experiences and that programs continue to produce high-caliber students.

As of 2015, there were more than 200 physical therapist education programs accredited by CAPTE. Attendance of a CAPTE accredited school is required to sit the state licensure exam.iv Therefore, when choosing an institution to pursue your doctorate in physical therapy degree, this may be an important factor to consider.

Potential Licensing Requirements to Become a Physical Therapist

After gaining work experience, you may also seek licensure as a board-certified specialist.iv Typically, this requires passing an exam and completing at least 2,000 hours of clinical work in a specific specialty within physical therapy. Or, you may be able to complete a residency program at an American Physical Therapy Association-accredited school. 

Currently, the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) offers board-certification in eight specialties.

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Orthopeadics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports
  • Women’s Health

Consider your career and personal goals to see if this might be a great option for you.

Take the Next Step to Earning Your Doctorate of Physical Therapy Degree (DPT)

If helping people recover and rehab from injuries, surgeries, or chronic illnesses and conditions interests you, earning a doctorate in physical therapy degree may be a perfect next step. Click on any of the listings on this page to learn about specific doctorate of physical therapy degree or tDPT programs. Or you can filter your search by format (online or on campus). When you find a program that may match your goals and needs, follow the link to easily request more information directly from the school. We wish you success!


Sources:[i] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm |[ii]onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1123.00 |[iii]bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-6|[iv]bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm#tab-4 |[v] ptcas.org/ptcas/public/allprograms.aspx?listorder=allstate&navID=10737426779 |[vi]ptcas.org/home.aspx | |[vii]capteonline.org/WhatWeDo/ |