If you want to prepare for a hands-on career in the field of health care and rehabilitation, you may be considering a master’s degree in physical therapy. To earn this degree, you must first secure admission to an accredited program, and then complete a course of study which generally combines science and health-related class work with clinical hours. Once you have completed the degree, you will likely need to pass a licensing exam before you can begin working in the field. Before committing to a master’s degree in physical therapy, you should note that employers increasingly require therapists to hold a doctorate in the field.
The first step to earning a master’s degree in physical therapy is securing admittance to an accredited graduate program. Admission to these programs can be highly competitive, and applicants with an educational background in a relevant field may have an advantage over those with undergraduate degrees in unrelated areas. Thus, if you are aware of your interest in physical therapy prior to or early on in your undergraduate study, you might consider a bachelor’s degree in an area like biology, kinesiology, or physical education. Volunteer or internship experience in the field can also strengthen your application.
Once you have enrolled in an accredited master’s degree in physical therapy program, you will begin a course of study that typically lasts around two years. During that time, you will take a number of classes that will teach you the scientific fundamentals of therapy, such as anatomy, biology, and pharmacology. You will also complete coursework that will prepare you for the day-to-day tasks involved in therapy, such as medical screening and diagnostics. Finally, you will in most cases be required to undertake clinical hours at a physical therapy center or hospital, thereby gaining hands-on practice before beginning work in the field.
All US states require working physical therapists to be licensed. Thus, after completing your master’s degree, you will need to fulfill licensing requirements before you can secure a job in the field. These requirements vary by state, though they typically involve a board examination and, in some cases, continuing education hours.
Before undertaking a master’s degree in physical therapy, you should consider the fact that a doctorate is increasingly becoming the US industry standard. As such, many universities have eliminated their physical therapy master’s programs, or introduced master’s-to-doctorate programs in which students continue directly on to doctoral study once they have satisfied the master’s program requirements. For the best career prospects, you might wish to enroll in one of these master’s-to-doctorate programs, or bypass the master’s program altogether and earn a doctorate instead.