How to Become a Physical Therapist

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Contributor, Benzinga
June 1, 2020

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Have you dreamed of working as a physical therapist someday? It’s a viable career choice that allows you to help patients improve body movements and minimize pain. Plus, you can help prevent injuries and disabilities that impede the optimal functionality of the human body. 

Maybe you’re ready to launch your career but don’t know where to start. Benzinga will show you the ropes in this detailed guide on how to become a physical therapist. 

Physical Therapist Overview

Before you take the first step toward becoming a physical therapist, you should know what the role entails and how much you can expect to be compensated. It’s also best if you have an idea of the education requirements. Most importantly, you want to know if the demand for physical therapists will increase over time. 

We’ve included this information and more to help you determine if a career as a physical therapist is right for you. 

Job Description

Physical therapists play an integral role in the preventive care, rehabilitation and treatment process for their patients. Their primary goal is to help patients improve movement in the area that’s injured or impacted by a chronic condition or illness. 

Other core roles and responsibilities include: 

  • Analyzing each patient’s medical history and other related data to formulate a plan for therapy
  • Tracking the progress of your patients and adjusting care plans as needed 
  • Helping your patients manage pain to improve their quality of life
  • Addressing any questions or concerns your patients may have 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these industries employ the largest number of physical therapists: 

  • Home healthcare services
  • Local, private and state hospitals
  • Nursing and residential care facilities
  • Offices of audiologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and physical therapists

Salary Information

In May 2019, the average annual salary for physical therapists was $89,440, notes Here’s how it breaks down by industry: 

  • Home healthcare services: $94,080
  • Local, private and state hospitals: $91,260
  • Nursing and residential care facilities: $95,540
  • Offices of audiologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and physical therapists: $85,130

Education Requirements

You need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree to work in the field. Before you can be admitted to a program, you will need a bachelor’s degree under your belt. You’re not limited to majors but it’s best to consider options that include courses on anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics and physiology. An undergraduate degree in exercise science is also ideal. 

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for physical therapists is slated to increase by 22% through 2028. This is good news for aspiring physical therapists, as the projected growth rate is 17% higher than the average for all other occupations. 

Steps to Becoming a Physical Therapist 

Follow these steps to become a physical therapist. 

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

You want a bachelor’s degree program that’s offered by a reputable college or university. It should also be accredited and feature small class sizes that allow you to receive individualized attention. Dedicated student support resources for distance learning students are also ideal.

Boost Your Knowledge

Consider an online course to learn more about the physical therapy profession or supplement your knowledge. Affordable options are available for all skill levels, and you can work through the course material at your own pace. 

Enroll in a DPT Degree Program 

The program you select should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Expect to spend 3 years working through the program. 

Complete a Clinical Residency

When you graduate from the DPT program, you can participate in a clinical residency program. Doing so allows you to gain additional experience in the field and focus on a particular area of care. If you want to gain even more specialized expertise, consider a fellowship program. View your options through the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education’s website

Get Licensed

Before you can practice as a physical therapist, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination to get licensed. It is facilitated by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. 

Best Universities for Becoming a Physical Therapist 

These online exercise science degree programs will help you meet the education requirements needed to be admitted to a DPT program. 

1. The University of North Carolina Wilmington 

Consider the online exercise science degree program from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. You will learn the essentials of exercise, fitness, health and wellness from a scientific perspective. The knowledge you gain will prepare you to work in academic, clinical, corporate, government, industrial and private sectors. Plus, you can specialize your degree by selecting the allied health concentration to align with your career goal of becoming a physical therapist. 

2. University of Wisconsin – Superior

The University of Wisconsin – Superior offers a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in exercise science. It’s a component of the Health and Human Performance Department and caters to students seeking careers in a clinical or hospital setting, clinical exercise physiology, health and fitness or wellness. Upon completion, you’ll have the foundational knowledge needed to excel in a physical therapy graduate degree program. 

Learn more about the basics of physical therapy with these online courses

1. Physical Therapy

Source: Udemy

Want to enhance your knowledge of physical therapy before enrolling in a DPT program? Look no further than this introductory course from Udemy. Led by Dr. Conor Hogan, Physical Therapy includes 9 lectures condensed into 2.5 hours of on-demand video and 2 downloadable resources that give you an overview of the discipline. You will also receive a certificate of completion when you finish the course. It’s only $11.99 to enroll. 

2. A Physical Therapist’s Guide: How to Stretch and Mobilize 

Source: Udemy

The information in this course can be used to supplement what you’re learning in the classroom. Led by physical therapist Nick Helton, A Physical Therapist’s Guide: How to Stretch and Mobilize is broken down into 5 core segments: 

  • How to Stretch, When to Stretch, Why Stretch and When Not to Stretch
  • Complex Anatomy Made Simple
  • Video Demonstration of 21+ Stretches/Mobility Exercises
  • Hyperlapse Stretch Section
  • Let’s Review Everything that Matters

Register today for $11.99 to unlock 2 hours of on-demand video lectures, 4 articles and 20 downloadable resources. The course is also backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee if you’re unsatisfied for any reason. 

Prepare for a Career as a Physical Therapist 

Position yourself for a successful career as a physical therapist. Start by taking a look at our recommended online degree programs and courses to find the best options for you. 

Prepare to spend several years of your life working toward your career goal. It may be challenging, but the time and money invested will be well worth it when you land a role and start working in the field. 

Southern New Hampshire University Online

SNHU Online Offers:

  1. Flexible schedules
  2. Affordable tuition
  3. Online tutoring
  4. Access to electronic research materials
  5. Specialized academic advising
  6. Supportive online community