How to Become a Physical Therapist

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Physical Therapist? What Physical Therapist do? Degrees for Physical Therapist, Steps to become Physical Therapist and much more.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapy is a growing part of the medical industry. Physical therapists are key to recovery for some patients who are recuperating from injuries, illnesses, and surgery. They work with patients to help them regain movement and manage pain, either in a hospital or clinical setting. They are fully licensed to practice therapy and treatment on patients, and doing so often helps patients reclaim their lives, their momentum, and their contentment.

What does Physical Therapist do ?

Physical therapists treat patients by teaching them different exercises intended to strengthen or stretch muscles as well as alleviate pain.

  • Consulting with patients to learn about their physical condition and symptoms.

  • Prepare for upcoming therapy sessions by organizing the treatment locations based on the patient’s needs.

  • Clean therapy area and set up any needed and necessary equipment.

  • Developing a treatment plan.

  • Teaching patients how to properly use exercise techniques.

  • Providing stimulation or massage.

  • Use equipment and devices to assist patients.

  • Documents patient care services by charting in patient and department records.

  • Maintain patient’s records, keeping track of goals and progress.

  • Advise patient and family about in-home treatment options and exercises.

  • Maintains patient confidence and protects hospital operations by keeping information confidential.

  • Develops physical therapy staff by providing information; developing and conducting in-service training programs.

  • Contributes to team effort by accomplishing related results as needed.

Steps for becoming Physical Therapist


Earn A Bachelor's Degree In A Health-Related Field

Before enrolling in a doctoral degree program for physical therapy, you must meet certain prerequisites. This normally includes completing a bachelor’s degree program with a heavy dose of Anatomy, Physiology, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.


Complete A Doctor Of Physical Therapy Degree Program

In order to work as a physical therapist, you must complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree program. As of 2014, there were 228 physical therapy programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), most of which last three years. It is usually necessary to apply for DPT programs through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). Students in DPT programs must complete a clinical internship in an area such as acute or orthopedic care with supervised experience.


Meet Your State’s Licensing Requirements

All states require PTs to become licensed. Licensing requirements are set by individual states, but include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). The NPTE is a computerized, multiple-choice exam. Applicants may take the exam three times in a twelve-month period. The Practice Exam and Assessment Tool (PEAT), also developed by the FSBPT, allow applicants to practice taking the test using an exam that resembles the NPTE.


Complete A Residency

After earning a DPT degree, you can apply to a clinical residency program for additional training and experience in specialty areas of care. These programs typically last one year. You can then specialize further by completing a fellowship in an advanced clinical area.


Obtain Board Certification

After working in the field, physical therapists may apply to become a board-certified specialist in one of eight clinical specialty areas offered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. In order to become board-certified, physical therapists must complete at least 2,000 hours of clinical work or an APTA-accredited residency program in the specialty area, and pass an exam.

Physical Therapist Salaries

Physical Therapist

Physical Therapist Degree Levels


In an associate degree program, students gain the knowledge and skills they need to assist physical therapists as they work on patients. Students learn the fundamentals of the profession through both classroom instruction and practical training with a licensed physical therapist. The following are samples of courses offered in a PTA associate degree program.

Physical therapist assistant procedures
  • Development of the Physical Therapy Profession

  • Physical Therapy Clinical Practice

  • Documentation and Patient Issues

  • Taking a patient’s vital signs

  • Administering the Heimlich maneuver

  • Mastery of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Clinical kinesiology
  • The Movement System

  • Muscle Activity and Strength

  • Elbow and Forearm Complex

  • Ability to recognize a normal and abnormal patient gait

  • Proper muscle testing

  • Measuring joints

Therapeutic exercise
  • Sacroiliac Dysfunctions and Muscle Energy

  • Soft Tissue, Neural, and Joint Mobilization

  • Extremity Therapeutic Exercise

  • Developing exercise programs for a variety of medical conditions

  • Keeping patients safe during therapeutic exercises

  • Evaluating patients’ progress as they work through an exercise program


Students in a pre-physical therapy bachelor’s program get a comprehensive overview of the physical therapy field and take courses in subjects that lay the foundation for a doctoral degree. For instance, students learn how to perform the duties of a physical therapist, while also taking science classes such as biology and physiology--which educate them about the workings of the human body.

Health science statistics
  • Populations & Samples

  • Nonparametric statistics

  • Survival analysis

  • Analyzing patient data through different statistical methods

  • Understanding of statistical methods such as correlation and inferential statistics

  • Analysis of variance

Athletic injuries
  • Training and Conditioning Techniques

  • Nutritional Considerations

  • Tissue Response to Injury

  • Diagnosing athletic trauma

  • Creating and implementing preventive plans for patients at risk of injury

  • Ability to apply sports medicine principles

  • Introduction to pharmacology

  • Principle of drug administration

  • Interpretation of medication order

  • Knowing which drugs are appropriate for different conditions

  • Recognizing drug abuse issues

  • Understanding the physical and psychological effects of different drugs


Typically, master’s degrees in physical therapy are not available. Instead, students can enroll directly in physical therapy Ph.D. programs if they have earned a pre-physical therapy bachelor’s degree or have worked as a physical therapy assistant--or a related healthcare position-and want to transition into a physical therapist job. These degrees, which can take up to six years to complete, can be earned at a traditional college, as well as online or hybrid learning environments.

Health psychology
  • The story of health psychology

  • Health and Media

  • Experiencing, measuring, and coping with stress

  • Understanding how pain affects a patient’s psychological state

  • Making nutritional recommendations that alleviate pain and stress

  • Ability to recognize mental health issues

Assistive devices
  • Background Information on Assistive Technology

  • Introduction to Assistive Technology

  • Measurement Instruments

  • Choosing the right wheelchair for a patient

  • Understanding how patients use assistive devices such as walkers, crutches, and canes

Neuroscience in Rehabilitation
  • Introduction to the Brain

  • Metabolism, Cerebral blood flow, CSF

  • Cerebellum

  • Organization, structure, and function of the human central nervous system

  • Nervous system function and dysfunction

  • Foundation in neuroscience