A physical therapist, or a PT, is a trained, licensed allied health professional who treats physical impairments due to injury, illness, prolonged inactivity or aging. The specific focus of physical therapy is muscles. There are a variety of physical therapist programs available, but to become a PT, education must be obtained by an accredited school.
An accredited school has a program which has undergone extensive review by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, also known as CAPTE accreditation. This accreditation ensures the quality of educational courses and that of the instructors. In order to be eligible to sit for the licensure exam, you must have attended an accredited physical therapist program.
Professional entry-level physical therapist programs offer two degree levels – a master’s or doctorate degree. A master’s degree, MPT or MSPT, requires a prerequisite of at least three years of undergrad classes and a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy followed by a two-year long master’s program. But there is a transition in effect that would require entry level PT’s to obtain a doctorate degree, or DPT. Physical therapist programs for a doctorate level degree is for those individuals possessing a bachelor’s degree and wish to pursue a physical therapy career path. Obtaining a DPT often requires an additional year after the master’s program, but will increase the number of opportunities available upon completion.
To be eligible to be accepted into a physical therapist program, you must attain a high grade point average (GPA), typically a minimum of 3.0, especially in the sciences, such as chemistry, biology, statistics and physics. Many programs also require at least one anatomy and physiology course prior to acceptance. Volunteering is also an important determining factor to acceptance into physical therapy studies. Colleges tend to favor volunteering in a physical therapy setting, as a physical therapy aide for example, in addition to other community service activities. Letters of recommendation from a licensed physical therapist are also required before acceptance into a physical therapy program.
Some physical therapist programs allow you to apply as an undergraduate while others require you to attain at least a bachelor’s degree before considering your application. The APTA, or the American Physical Therapy Association, can provide up-to-date information regarding the education and requirements of the various physical therapy programs available. This association can also help potential physical therapist candidates decide which options suit their needs and which educational direction is required.