Residency & Beyond

How to Be a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists play an important role in the healthcare system. They are highly trained professionals who help people manage their pain and/or improve their mobility when an injury is preventing them from achieving their full maximum health. The work of a physical therapist is often seen as an alternative to medicine because a P.T. attempts to improve one’s health without the use of traditional medications.


To be a physical therapist, one must endure long years of schooling and training.You can view a general timeline on how to be a physical therapist.


{slider=1. Graduate from High School}

What courses should I take?
To be a physical therapist, one must take many science and math classes at your undergraduate college as well as at your physical therapy school. To prepare for these challenging courses, high school students should challenge themselves academically while still in high school. Try taking many AP and honors classes, especially in science or math. This will help you prepare you for college. Physical therapy is a demanding and competitive field so you need to make sure that you do well in all your courses.

{/slider}{slider=2. Graduate from an Undergraduate College}

What courses should I take?
To get into physical therapy school, there are required courses that you must take. These courses generally include biology, chemistry, physics, math, human anatomy and physiology, and psychology. However, each school may vary in its requirements and so it is your responsibility to research individual schools.

Do I need to graduate?
Though it is not required by all schools to obtain a bachelor’s degree, it is highly recommended, especially because the field of physical therapy is highly competitive. However, there are some programs that recommend students to apply after two years of study.

What should I major in?
It does not matter what you decide to major in at your undergraduate institution. What does matter is that you do well in all your classes, especially the required coursework.

Is there a standardized test I must take?
You must take a standardized test called the General Record Examinations, or GRE.

What should I focus on during my time in college?
Your undergraduate academic record and GRE are two of the most important factors in determining whether you are admitted into physical therapy school. Other important factors include letters of recommendation and experience related to physical therapy either through working, volunteering, or interning.
Most physical therapy schools require students to have a minimum of 3.0 GPA to apply. However, note that competitive GPAs may be a lot higher. Again, students should research individual schools to determine what it would take to get into certain schools.


{/slider}{slider=3. Graduate From Physical Therapy School}

3. Graduate from Physical Therapy School (~3 years)
What degree do Physical Therapists receive?
People can become a physical therapist by obtaining a master’s or doctorate degree at a physical therapy school. However, the field of physical therapy is transitioning towards requiring all licensed physical therapists to obtain a doctorate degree. Therefore, most physical therapy schools now offer its graduate a doctorate of physical therapy (D.P.T) instead of a master’s of physical therapy (M.P.T). You can practice physical therapy with either degree, but most people will now need to enter a doctorate program to become a physical therapist.

Am I licensed after I graduate physical therapy school?
After obtaining their degree, they must be licensed to practice by passing a licensing test. Each state differs in their requirements.

{/slider}{slider=4. Finish a Physical Therapy Residency or Fellowship (Optional, ~1-3 years)}

What is residency or fellowship?
After graduating physical therapy school and obtaining a state license, a P.T. can opt to continue their training by entering a residency or fellowship. Residency and fellowship allows a P.T. to become specialized in a specialty of their choice.

What types of specialties exist?
According to the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, the following specialties exist:
Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
Clinical Electrophysiology
Women’s Health



Important resources:

American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)

US News Rankings

US Department of Labor–Bureau of Labor Statistics


Guest Author

This article was written by a guest author. ProspectiveDoctor highly encourages guest authors to contribute their work to ProspectiveDoctor.

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