Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Graduate Programs

Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Degrees provide courses of study at the masters, doctorate and certificate levels for those with a passion for human performance and desire to help people with injuries or illnesses. Students generally will want to focus on a specific field of study, both to learn about their technical field, and to define their skill sets.

How to earn a graduate degree in Physical Therapy written by Rana Waxman

Some of the physical therapy and occupational therapy graduate programs you might choose include degrees in athletic training, occupational therapy, physical therapy and kinesiology.

Types of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Degree Programs

Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy degrees may prepare students to help others function on their own and to the best of their ability. Most programs could also help students gain the necessary academic experience to position themselves for professional practice in their chosen field.i Below are a few examples from the wide range of programs you might find under the umbrella of physical and occupational therapy degrees. Choose one that aligns with your career goals and personal interests.

Physical Therapy Graduate Programs

Most Physical Therapy Graduate programs are oriented towards the terminal Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, or DPT. This is because a DPT degree is required to become a licensed physical therapist. Other options may include the tDPT degree or a certificate in physical therapy to help practicing professionals expand their knowledge.

Doctor of Physical Therapy

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is a 3-year, full-time program.ii It typically includes theoretical and practical courses to help students develop their ability to make clinical decisions, design research and acquire technical skills. Applicants to many of these programs may need to have a bachelors degree as well as specific courses under their belt. These could include classes in anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry and physics.ii Some DPT degree programs start off with a core of foundational science classes and clinical content/lab courses. In these, students may study kinesiology, gross anatomy, pathophysiology and biomechanics. As their program progresses, students usually tackle other topics such as neuroscience, pharmacology and nutrition. Along the way, students also take courses in diagnostics and intervention methods, such as diagnostic imaging and advanced wound care. To cap their program, students conduct a research or scholarly project and participate in applied clinical integration courses where they synthesize what they learned and put it into practice under supervision.

Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy

The Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy program is designed for licensed physical therapists who want to meet today’s updated, academic standards. As a post-professional degree, the tDPT could cover a different set of courses than the DPT since it is presumed students have covered some material. However, they may still be required to complete a practicum and research paper. While actual curriculum varies, tDPT students may examine issues that relate to professional development and evidence-based clinical practice. Other courses might help students identify health indicators, use diagnostic imagery and understand screening protocols. They are also likely to study medications and their side effects, injury prevention and wellness.

Masters Degree in Physical Therapy

Physical Therapy masters programs specialize in evaluating and treating physical human body disorders, resulting from injury, disease, and any other bodily or mental condition. If you are a career-focused student looking into the health care field, a Physical Therapy Masters Program can offer you different options.

Physical Therapy Certificate Programs

Clinical Physical Therapy Certificate programs might assist practicing physical therapists in preparing for board certification in specific clinical specialty areas.Orthopedics, sports, and geriatric physical therapy are some examples. Certificates may also be available in other recognized areas by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.ii Contact schools to learn more.

Occupational Therapy Graduate Programs

Occupational Therapy Graduate programs may be available in the form of masters and doctorate degrees. Admission typically requires a bachelors degree and specific course prerequisites such as biology and physiology. Many OT programs also require applicants to have volunteered or worked in an occupational therapy setting.i

Master of Science in Occupational Therapy

A Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) program may include course work, research and fieldwork rotations. Since students often enter with only basic undergrad knowledge, a MSOT degree could start out with foundational concepts. In these courses, students may learn about human occupation and development across the lifespan. From there, the courses could provide more in terms of how to evaluate, intervene and apply theory in clinical practice. The MSOT may also help students build professional skills and learn how to interpret research.

Doctor of Occupational Therapy

The Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree is typically designed to further clinical knowledge and skills. Applicants often need a current occupational therapist license, along with several years of practical experience. To earn their OTD degree, students might have to complete required courses, electives, and a capstone. Core courses could focus on professional development and healthcare management. Other requisite courses might discuss research methods and current trends in occupational therapy. Electives, which tailor the OTD to the student’s aims, may explore pediatric or geriatric practices, patient advocacy and behavioral health.

Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy

A Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree program is aimed at individuals who have already earned an entry-level, professional degree in occupational therapy. Applicants also may need to have initial OT certification. In some programs, students take required seminars as well as electives. Seminars often examine topics within public health and epidemiology, and students could learn how to develop a program for a specific group. Other courses may provide business insight. For instance, they might examine how to budget, market and manage resources for specific projects. Electives are used to explore areas that interest each student, and might include disability studies, policy analysis and more. Students usually must also complete a doctoral project at the end of their program.

What is the Difference Between Physical and Occupational Therapy Degrees?

Not sure what the difference is between a physical therapy degree and an occupational therapy degree? Physical and occupational therapy degrees have unique traits that might appeal to different learners who strive towards distinct career pursuits.
  • Occupational Therapists (OT) help injured, ill or disabled patients develop, recover and improve their ability to perform daily activities and self-care. For example, OT’s may help a stroke patient learn to dress themselves. To launch a career, occupational therapists need at least a Masters in Occupational Therapy, though a doctoral degree is also common. i
  • Physical Therapists (PT) help injured or ill patients improve their functional mobility and manage their pain. For instance, PT’s might use exercises, stretches and other treatments that help people rehabilitate. To be licensed to practice, all physical therapists need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. ii
Professional Insight physical therapy degree online “Physical Therapists have one of the best jobs out there. Because of my physical therapy degree, I know how to properly fulfill goals, return clients to a prior level of living, evaluate and treat many conditions and restore the health, mobility, strength and stability of clients. It is a gratifying profession and rewarding for both the client and therapist in that they both work together as a team to get back enjoying life.” Click To Tweet! -Physical therapist, Dr. Karena Wu

Athletic Training Graduate Programs

There are various options for those who want to earn a graduate-level athletic training degree. Some programs engage learners with classroom and clinical components. For instance, they might take science and health-related courses, such as biology, anatomy, physiology, and nutrition.iii Other programs could tackle the business angle of athletics and sports management.

Master of Health Sciences in Athletic Training

The Master of Health Sciences (MHS) in Athletic Training program may stress an inter-professional education where healthcare issues are discussed from multiple angles. Applicants may be licensed athletic trainers, certified athletic trainers, and certified athletic therapists who have also earned a bachelors degree in the health sciences. Some MHS in Athletic Training degree programs entail about 36 credits which may include core and emphasis courses along with a final project. Core courses could explore topics such as various psychosocial strategies for healthcare, ethics, policy and organizational leadership. Courses geared to athletic training might focus on concussion in sport, disability and emergency procedures. Students could learn to assess risk, help disabled athletes and develop their business and leadership skills, among others.

Master of Science in Sport Management: Athletic Administration

A Master of Science in Sport Management might help students make connections between research, theory and practice in a sports context. Some programs entail 36 credits of coursework, divided between core courses, concentration-specific course and a capstone. For most programs, applicants need to have earned their bachelors degree. Students who major in athletic administration could look at athletics from the standpoint of organizational leadership. For instance, students could explore marketing, law, finance, and governance in the context of both professional and amateur sports. Other topics could include current issues in sports such as performance enhancing drugs, cheating and violence. Beyond that, coursework is likely to help students learn how to strategically plan, motivate personnel and use management theory to address challenges.

Doctor of Athletic Training

The Doctor of Athletic Training (DAT) degree is a terminal, post-professional degree in athletic healthcare and sports medicine. Applicants to a DAT program will typically have earned a masters or higher degree from a regionally accredited institution and may have to show Board of Certification (BOC) certification as an athletic trainer. DAT degree students may develop both clinically and academically. Through their course of study and action research, they could learn how to analyze, develop and apply practical solutions to improve the delivery of athletic healthcare, and the health outcomes of physically active individuals and their communities. DAT courses may also allow students to gain expertise in areas such as orthopedic rehabilitation, professional leadership, and applied research. Plus classes in health information technology and patient outcomes could help students learn to make clinical decisions in areas such as patient safety.
DID YOU KNOW? Nearly all states require athletic trainers to be licensed or certified. i

Kinesiology Graduate Programs

Kinesiology graduate programs delve into the study of movement and exercise processes within clinical and practical contexts. A kinesiology degree is often found at the masters level. At the doctoral level, students might look for a degree in exercise science or human bioenergetics.

Master of Science in Kinesiology

The Master of Science (MS) in Kinesiology with a focus in Sport and Human Performance may help deepen students’ grasp of the movement and exercises that occur as people develop, learn, rehabilitate and train. Applicants typically need to have earned a bachelors degree with a kinesiology major, minor, or in a related field, along with school-approved prerequisites. In their courses, students could study biomechanics, exercise physiology, motor learning and research. Kinesiology degree students could also learn how to apply exercise science theory through practicums in clinical, commercial or athletic settings.

Online, On-Campus or Hybrid?

Physical and occupational therapy degrees may be available in a variety of formats. You might look for on-campus graduate programs in your city or state to take your courses live and in person. This could make getting hands on practice that much easier. Or, if that is impossible given your work schedule, check out an online program. Online programs could allow you to fit continued education into your life rather than the other way around. Hybrid programs blend on-site with online coursework. The exact structure of these programs varies, but if might mean summer residential intensives coupled with web-based coursework.

Career Outlook

Demand for rehabilitative care continues to rise. Employment of physical therapists is forecasted to grow by 34% from 2014 to 2024.ii Similar trends also indicate a projected 27% growth in the same time frame for occupational therapists. This, in part due to the number of patients with autism spectrum disorder who might benefit from OT services.i

Find Accredited Physical & Occupational Therapy Graduate Programs

Most graduate schools with physical and occupational therapy degrees are regionally or nationally accredited by institutions. This type of approval speaks to the school’s financial stability, its faculty, curricula and services. As a voluntary process, schools need to undergo this review periodically to maintain the status. Beyond that, you could look for individual physical and occupational therapy graduate programs that are approved by their respective professional agencies. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education are two examples. Exercise physiology programs might be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).ivAttendance of an accredited program may be important for licensure, so be sure to contact schools directly and check your state’s requirements. You actively seek ways to help others. Now you need to achieve a degree that might support your aims. Find OT and PT Graduate Schools today!
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  • California State University, Northridge

  • Liberty University Online

  • University of Western States

  • Oregon State University