Becoming A Doctor Of Physical Therapy

One of the highest qualifications that you can aspire to in the field of physical therapy is to become a doctor of physical therapy. This involves many years of study and training, but at the end of the day you will earn a great deal of respect from your medical counterparts and you will be in a position of high prestige earning a very decent salary. A doctor if physical therapy is formally recognized as an expert in the field and will be treated as such at all times.

Why Enroll In A Doctor Of Physical Therapy Program?

There are two main reasons to become a doctor of physical therapy:

1. You will be guaranteed of finding employment in the future
2. You will be provided with extremely comprehensive and in-depth training

The first point is related to the fact that APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) plans to make a doctorate the minimum level of education needed to become a physical therapist in the future. At the moment you don’t need a doctorate to be a physical therapist, but by 2020 you will. By earning a doctorate now you are guaranteed of still being able to find employment when the rules change. In any case the in depth training that you are given in a doctorate course is the best way to ensure continual success in the profession.

How To Become A Doctor Of Physical Therapy

The first step to becoming a doctor of physical therapy lies in completing a bachelor’s degree, preferably in the science field. Then you should volunteer as a physical therapy aide at local hospitals, clinics or other medical facilities in order to gain experience. Next you must obtain letters of recommendation to accompany your doctoral program application, examine the list of doctor of physical therapy programs provided on the American Physical Therapy Association website, apply to the doctor of physical therapy programs that interest you, complete your doctor of physical therapy program, and take and pass all required exams.


There are three main benefits to becoming a doctor of physical therapy:

1. You will have a lot more autonomy. If you do not have a doctorate it means that you can only administer treatment to patients who have been referred by a physician. As a doctor you can enter into private practice.
2. In addition you will also have the higher level of expertise needed to keep up with the many medical and technological advances that are being made every day. This increased level of expertise may mean that you stand a higher chance of finding employment.
3. The salary, which will be discussed in more detail later, is much higher than that of a physical therapist without a doctorate.

Types Of Doctors In Physical Therapy

Orthopedic Physical Therapists

These types of physical therapy doctors are trained to treat disorders and injuries of the musculoskeletal system as well as rehabilitate patients after surgery. This is probably the best known area of physical therapy and this is where you will find many doctors of physical therapy working. The actual therapy that such a doctor administers can vary, but usually consists of things such as administering heat packs, cold packs, massage, water therapy and electrical stimulation. The main aim is to ensure that functioning is fully restored, and it is the prerogative of the physical therapist to determine how many sessions the patient will need in order to achieve his or her therapeutic goals.

Geriatric Physical Therapists

There are a number of ailments that only affect certain members of the population. For example there are many musculoskeletal ailments that seem to primarily be felt by the elderly. A geriatric physical therapist will usually work with older patients in his or her daily practice. The ailments that you may encounter if you choose to be a doctor of physical therapy in this particular arena include:

  • ArthritisDoctor Of Physical Therapy
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Hip and joint replacement

Clearly an elderly member of society has different needs in terms of physical therapy. In addition there are certain measures a physical therapist may have to put into place in order to ensure that treatment occurs safely as older adults tend to be frailer.

Neurological Physical Therapists

There are a number of neurological disorders and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injury and even stroke, which result in poor motor functioning and other symptoms that fall within the domain of physical therapy. A neurological physical therapist is one who works with patients suffering from these neurological disorders, specifically by helping them recover as much of their physical functioning as possible. The main point in this line of work is that therapists work with patients to lessen the symptoms to help them get their independence back. That could also be considered as one of the main roles of a doctor of physical therapy – to help patience achieve a level of independence they may not otherwise have had.

Pediatric Physical Therapists

Like the elderly, pediatrics (which is generally taken to mean anyone younger than the age of 18) often need to be cared for in different ways to adults. This means that in the arena of physical therapy there needs to be doctors who are able to address the specific needs and ailments of children. Usually these treatments tend to focus on improving the fine motor skills of children with various congenital, neuromuscular, skeletal and developmental problems, along with balance and coordination. Strength and endurance are important as well as cognitive and sensory skills and these are all included in treatments if necessary. This is a fairly popular arena of physical therapy among new students, but it must be remembered that it is not the only option you have.

Cardiovascular And Pulmonary Rehabilitation Physical Therapists

These doctors of physical therapy focus mainly on assisting patients who:

  • Have had cardiac surgery
  • Have had pulmonary surgery
  • Have heart disease

More specifically, patients who have had the following may need physical therapy of this kind:

  • Heart attacks
  • Post bypass surgery
  • Pulmonary disease
  • Fibrosis

The main aim of this type of physical therapy is to assist in clearing lung secretions. Consequently this is a highly skilled subsection of the physical therapy arena and requires years of advanced training in order to for you to become skilled enough to get a position in this line of work.


The following are the salaries that you can expect to earn in different physical therapy occupations:

  • As a general physical therapist (where a doctorate is not necessary, but is often preferred) you can earn $62,019 a year
  • As a licensed practical therapist (where a doctorate is not necessary, but is often preferred) you can earn $62,164 a year
  • As a Staff physical therapist (where a doctorate is not necessary, but is often preferred) you can earn $62,333 a year
  • As a pediatric physical therapist (where a doctorate is not necessary, but is often preferred) you can earn $57,861 a year
  • As a clinical director of physical therapy (where a doctorate is usually a requirement) you can earn $71,713 a year
  • As a physical therapist director (where a doctorate is usually a requirement) you can earn $72,830 a year
  • As a lead physical therapist (where a doctorate is usually a requirement) you can earn $68,966 a year

List Of Schools Offering Doctorates In Physical Therapy

Not all schools that offer physical therapy qualifications have a doctorate option. Below is a fairly comprehensive list of the various schools through which you will be able to earn a doctorate in physical therapy in the US. It will be necessary to do your own research into each school to determine its suitability in your particular case.

  • Alabama State University
  • The University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • University of South Alabama
  • Northern Arizona University
  • University of Central Arkansas
  • Azusa Pacific University
  • Chapman University, Orange
  • Loma Linda University, Loma Linda
  • Mount St Mary’s College, Los Angeles
  • Samuel Merritt College
  • University of California, San Francisco/San Francisco State University
  • University of Southern California
  • University of the Pacific
  • Western University of Health Sciences
  • Regis University
  • University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
  • Quinnipiac University
  • The George Washington University
  • University of Delaware
  • University of Florida
  • University of Miami
  • University of South Florida
  • University of St Augustine for Health Sciences
  • Emory University
  • Georgia State University
  • Medical College of Georgia, Augusta
  • Idaho State University
  • Bradley University
  • Midwestern University
  • Northwestern University
  • Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science
  • The University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Indiana University
  • University of Indianapolis
  • Clarke College
  • Des Moines University – Osteopathic Medical Center
  • St Ambrose University
  • The University of Iowa
  • University of Kansas Medical Center
  • Bellarmine University
  • University of New England
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Maryland – Eastern Shore
  • American International College
  • Boston University
  • MGH Institute of Health Professions
  • Simmons College
  • pringfield College
  • University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Andrews University
  • Central Michigan University
  • Oakland University
  • University of Michigan – Flint
  • College of St Catherine
  • College of St Scholastica
  • Mayo School of Health Sciences
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Mississippi Medical Center
  • Rockhurst University
  • Southwest Baptist University
  • Washington University of St Louis
  • The University of Montana – Missoula
  • Creighton University
  • University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey
  • University of New Mexico
  • Columbia University
  • Daemen College
  • Dominican College of Blauvelt
  • Long Island University – Brooklyn Campus
  • New York Medical College
  • New York University
  • State University of New York Upstate Medical University
  • Stony Brook University
  • The Sage Colleges
  • University at Buffalo, State University of New York
  • Utica College
  • Duke University
  • East Carolina University
  • Elon University
  • University of Mary
  • University of North Dakota
  • Pacific University
  • Arcadia University
  • Drexel University
  • Duquesne University
  • Gannon University
  • Neumann College
  • Saint Francis University
  • Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
  • Temple University
  • Thomas Jefferson University
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • University of the Sciences in Philadelphia
  • Widener University
  • Medical University of South Carolina
  • University of South Carolina – Columbia
  • Belmont University
  • East Tennessee State University
  • The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
  • Hardin-Simmons University
  • US Army-Baylor University
  • University of Utah
  • University of Vermont
  • Hampton University
  • Marymount University
  • Old Dominion University
  • Shenandoah University
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • University of Puget Sound
  • University of Washington
  • Concordia University Wisconsin
  • Marquette University

As you can see there are a vast number of options to choose form. When making your decision about which physical therapy school you plan to do your doctorate through, you really need to be very careful as the school that you choose at this point in your career will go a long way to impacting the rest of your career as a physical therapist.

The school that you choose should be accredited and it should have a good reputation in terms of the ration of students who graduate from the school in comparison to the ratio of students from that school who pass the licensing examinations and find employment in the field of physical therapy. Becoming a doctor of physical therapy is a very prestigious and worthy qualification to strive towards and you will find that the job comes with a number of benefits and perks, such as an increase in salary. In addition you may be able to enter into private practice.

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