Online physical therapy programs can enable you to earn your doctorate while having more flexibility than traditional degree programs.
Online DPT programs usually allow you to complete all of your academic coursework online so that you do not have to commute to campus.
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Because physical therapists use a lot of hands-on skills in their work, online degree programs in this field often use a hybrid model. This means that students can gain in-person practical experience while also having the convenience of online classes.
Online Physical Therapy Programs
A Doctor of Physical Therapy online program covers a wide range of topics related to the human muscular and skeletal systems and how they work. While earning your DPT degree, subjects you’ll likely study include:
- Exercise physiology
- Cellular histology
Physical therapist doctorate programs can help you acquire extensive knowledge of the human body. In addition to coursework, you will also gain clinical experience. If you enroll in an online program, some universities are able to help you find an approved site in your local area where you can complete your clinical experience.
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There are also transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy programs for working professionals who became physical therapists before a doctoral degree was required.
If you are new to the field of physical therapy, a standard, accredited DPT can qualify you to pursue licensure as a physical therapist. After graduation from physical therapy doctoral programs, graduates tend to pursue careers as physical therapists. When considering how to become a physical therapist, you should know that it’s necessary to obtain licensure.
Spending time in a clinical residency or fellowship allows you to gain more hands-on experience under the supervision and guidance of a more experienced physical therapist.
Physical Therapy Careers & Salaries
The majority of physical therapists work in offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists and audiologists. PTs can also work in hospitals, home healthcare services, and nursing and residential care facilities. Some physical therapists are self-employed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for physical therapists in general is $91,010. Here are some different types of physical therapists and related occupations, accompanied by their median annual salaries.
|Careers||Annual Median Salaries|
|Physical Therapists — Nursing and Residential Care Facilities||$97,610|
|Physical Therapists — Spectator Sports||$96,180|
|Physical Therapists — Home Healthcare||$95,320|
|Physical Therapists — Hospitals||$93,060|
|Physical Therapists — Offices of Therapists and Audiologists||$85,680|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||$59,770|
|Physical Therapist Aides||$28,450|
Physical therapy is often a high-paying field, and physical therapists can have opportunities to work in a wide variety of settings. The PT field is also seeing a significant amount of growth, with 18% job growth expected for physical therapists over the next ten years (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Doctor of Physical Therapy Curriculum
Here are examples of courses you may take while earning your DPT degree:
- Physical Therapy Professionalism: In this course, you’ll study the American Physical Therapy Association Code of Ethics and learn how to behave appropriately with patients and colleagues.
- Musculoskeletal Physical Therapy: In this course, you’ll study common muscular and skeletal problems, how to evaluate patients and develop treatment plans, and how to identify situations that require a referral to other professionals.
- Pharmacotherapy: In this course, you’ll study common drugs prescribed by physicians, and you’ll learn how these drugs might affect your patients.
- Functional and Structural Aspects of Movement: In this course, you’ll study different types of human joints and movements.
- Introduction to Pathophysiology: In this course, you’ll study how changes in the body resulting from disease or injury can affect functionality.
- Basic Cardiopulmonary Patient Care: In this course, you’ll study the treatment of patients with lung or heart disease.
- Physical Therapy Practice Issues: In this course, you’ll study topics such as practice management and patient retention.
- Clinical Practicum: The clinical practicum will provide you with hands-on experience working with patients under the guidance of a licensed physical therapist.
- Functional Anatomy of Axial and Appendicular Regions: In this course, you’ll study different divisions of the human skeleton and how they operate together.
- Basic Orthopedic Patient Care: In this course, you’ll study the treatment of patients who have had fractures or other injuries to their bones.
Exact course titles and requirements can vary from one university to another.
How to Choose an Online Physical Therapy Program
Here are some factors to consider when choosing an online DPT degree program:
- On-campus requirements. Accredited online DPT programs require students to come to a campus or an approved local facility at least once in a while for workshops and other activities so that you can learn hands-on skills.
- Synchronous vs. asynchronous classes. Synchronous online courses require students to log in at specific times and participate in discussions with other students. Asynchronous classes tend to feature fewer interactions but allow more scheduling flexibility.
- Internships. If you do not live near the university you want to attend, you may want to find out how much assistance they can provide in finding an appropriate site for you to complete your internship.
Before deciding where to apply, it can be beneficial to consider these factors carefully, along with any other features that are important to you.
DPT Admissions Requirements
Here are some common admissions requirements for online Doctor of Physical Therapy degree programs:
- Bachelor’s degree
- Official transcripts
- Minimum grade point average (often 3.0)
- Letters of recommendation
- GRE or GMAT scores (if required)
A growing number of schools are no longer requiring GRE or GMAT scores. Admissions requirements can vary widely from one school to another, so you may want to check the websites of the specific schools you are interested in to find out their particular requirements.
Many DPT programs ask prospective students to submit applications through a system called the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).
Regional accreditation is a way to ensure that colleges and universities provide a high quality education. Schools can receive and maintain this status by being regularly evaluated by outside accrediting agencies.
You can usually find out if a university has regional accreditation by checking its website. DPT programs also receive programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). A DPT program often has to be accredited by CAPTE to qualify you for state licensure.
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For more information on the topic of regional accreditation, you can visit the US Department of Education.
Physical Therapy Licensure and Certifications
If you wish to become licensed, you can apply for state licensure upon graduating from your DPT program. Exact requirements vary by state, but the process usually involves taking the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE).
Once you have received licensure, you will complete continuing education requirements in order to renew your license every couple of years, depending on the state.
In addition to receiving licensure, you may also want to become board certified. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties confers board certification in many different areas of practice, such as pediatrics, orthopedics, and oncology.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
There are many financial aid opportunities available for students of physical therapy who qualify. You might be able to qualify for state aid, federal aid, grants, or scholarships. Some employers even have tuition programs for employees who are furthering their education.
The financial aid office of the university you’re applying to can probably provide you with information about what scholarships might be available to you as a DPT student. You may also want to seek out and apply for scholarships offered by private organizations.
To apply for federal financial aid, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Are Physical Therapists Doctors?
The requirement that physical therapists hold doctoral degrees to become licensed is relatively new, so not all physical therapists have this type of degree. Some physical therapists have a Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT) or a Master of Physical Therapy (MPT).
Physical therapists who do have doctoral degrees have a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). A DPT is different from a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree, which is held by medical doctors. Any professionals, including physical therapists, who hold a doctoral degree can be called doctor, but their education and qualifications are different than MDs.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Physical Therapist?
Currently, aspiring physical therapists are expected to hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in order to meet state licensing requirements. The doctoral degree program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
When pursuing a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, it may be helpful for your undergraduate degree to be in a related field, such as biology, exercise science, or kinesiology. You can potentially apply to a DPT program with any undergraduate major, though.
What Can You Do with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy?
The most likely career path for a person with a doctorate in physical therapy is to become a licensed physical therapist. You can become a licensed PT by meeting your state’s licensing requirements.
If you choose to become a licensed physical therapist, you can also pursue board certification in a specialty. For example, there are physical therapists who specialize in pediatrics or orthopedics. Some professionals with DPT training pursue occupations that involve similar knowledge and skill sets, such as exercise physiologists or athletic trainers.
Can You Get a Physical Therapy Degree Online?
Yes, you can get a physical therapy degree online. Most online degree programs in physical therapy are actually hybrid programs.
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In a hybrid program, most of your academic coursework can be completed online, but you also go to campus locations at times to receive hands-on training. You will also be expected to complete a clinical practicum on site. Many universities are able to help students find appropriate places near them to complete the clinical component.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy Online?
Students interested in a career in physical therapy often wonder how long it takes to become a physical therapist. Most online doctoral degree programs in physical therapy can be completed in 3 years with full-time study. You may need more time to complete your degree if you only attend classes part-time.
While a Doctor of Physical Therapy is a type of doctoral degree, it is not the same as a PhD, which can often take 5 years to complete with a dissertation requirement. Most DPT programs do not require any sort of dissertation or final project, which can give you the opportunity to finish in less time.
What’s the Difference Between a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy?
A doctorate in occupational therapy prepares you to become an occupational therapist, and a doctorate in physical therapy prepares you to become a physical therapist. Here are some differences between the two fields:
|Physical Therapist||Occupational Therapist|
Physical therapy and occupational therapy are both rehabilitative sciences, so there can be some overlap between the two fields.
Is a Doctoral Degree for Physical Therapy Worth It?
Yes, a doctoral degree for physical therapy is worth it for many students. Many physical therapy jobs pay above average salaries, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics currently projects 18% job growth for this occupation over the next ten years.
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Additionally, many professionals find a career in physical therapy to be both challenging and rewarding. Physical therapists often help patients improve their mobility or assist them in recovering from injuries. A career in physical therapy could provide you with an opportunity to help others in a very direct and tangible way.
Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy Degree Programs
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.
A.T. Still University offers a transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy degree online. The program is designed to provide maximum flexibility and support the needs of working professionals.
Students in this program can take one or two classes at a time and get a personalized curriculum plan based on one-on-one assessments of their work experience.
A.T. Still University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Andrews University offers a transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy degree program that can be earned either on campus or in an interactive online format. Online students have opportunities to attend one or two intensives on campus and communicate with each other and their instructors in all courses.
Andrews University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Arcadia University offers a hybrid DPT program that includes online courses, in-person immersions, and 32 weeks of clinical education experiences. The program usually takes 25 months to complete. It is designed to prepare graduates for the National Physical Therapy Exam. More than 95% of Arcadia’s students pass the exam on their first attempt.
Arcadia University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The online transitional DPT degree program from Northeastern University can typically be completed in just one to three years.
Full-time and part-time scheduling options are available. Students can choose either a clinical or education track, depending on their career goals. Courses include Diagnostic Imaging, Medical Screening and Nutrition for Physical Therapists, Pharmacology, and Comprehensive Case Analysis.
Northeastern University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Shenandoah University’s online DPT program uses an asynchronous format to provide maximum flexibility for busy working professionals.
Immersive experiences and other events are available on campus to support the needs of online learners. The program can typically be completed in one or two years. The curriculum emphasizes evidence-based practice.
Shenandoah University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The transitional DPT at the College of St. Scholastica is a condensed program with just six courses and sixteen total program credits.
Coursework can be completed 100% online. The courses cover pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, health care policy, differential diagnosis, evidence-based practice, and clinical experience. Class sizes are limited to just 24 students.
The College of St. Scholastica is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Michigan—Flint offers a transitional DPT degree that can often be earned in just two years.
The program requires 24 credits to graduate and has full-time and part-time enrollment options. Online courses are taught from an evidence-based perspective and include live discussions. The program is designed for currently practicing physical therapists.
The University of Michigan-Flint is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
The transitional DPT degree program from UNC Chapel Hill includes three components: clinical foundation core, clinical practice core, and specialty practice core. The program requires 30 credit hours to graduate and is designed to be completed in 2 years. It is currently only offered on a part-time basis.
UNC-Chapel Hill is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Southern California offers a hybrid online/on-campus Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
Online classes have a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio. It includes both hands-on clinical experiences and regular immersion experiences on campus. The program typically takes 3 years to complete and is designed to prepare students for the National Physical Therapy Exam.
The University of Southern California is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Utica College offers a transitional DPT online program. It can potentially be completed in as few as four semesters. It includes seven courses that teach about the foundations of autonomous practice, techniques for prevention and wellness, diagnostic imaging, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and more. It concludes with a practicum.
Utica College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Getting Your Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree Online
Earning your Doctor of Physical Therapy degree can enable you to develop a nuanced understanding of human biomechanics. You can also learn how to apply this understanding to develop individualized treatment plans to enable patients to become more active.
If you have decided that becoming a physical therapist is the right career path for you, you may want to consider enrolling in an online program accredited by CAPTE.
As an option, before considering a full-on DPT program online, you may want to look into completing one of the online physical therapist assistant programs that a growing number of universities offer.
Online physical therapy degree programs often provide convenience and flexibility with regards to the completion of your coursework. Plus, hybrid learning options still provide opportunities for hands-on learning and real-life clinical experience.
You can start your educational journey today by exploring online DPT programs.