Physical therapists are accredited health professionals who have generally earned a master’s degree and passed a state licensing exam. However, a requirement for a doctorate in physical therapy (DPT) is becoming more common. There are currently >172,000 physical therapists in the United States. US News & World Report recently added PT to its list of best careers for 2009, with respondents reporting high job satisfaction.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for physical therapists are expected to increase 27% between 2006 and 2016. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapy has an unemployment rate of just 0.2%.
Employment locations include outpatient clinics, nursing homes, schools, hospitals, and many others. Salary varies, but 95% report income >$40,000, with a mean in the $50-60,000 range and a median of ~$66,000 in 2006.
Education, Accreditation, and Licensure
Physical therapists earn a bachelor’s degree, then pursue an advanced degree. Increasingly, a DPT is required, which is earned from an accredited three-year program.
In order to practice, DPTs must then pass a national exam administered by each state. The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy and costs $350. Successful completion is determined by each state, though minimum passing scores are the same for each state. In Virginia, the VA Board of Physical Therapy administers the license, which has a fee of $140.
Note that admission requirements vary by the school and may not be applicable to all programs. It is highly encouraged that candidates check the websites or contact admissions representatives of schools they are interested in attending.
Major: No specific major is preferred, as long as all prerequisites defined by the particular program are met.
Grade-point average: As with all health professions, admission is fairly competitive, and 75% of schools specify a minimum GPA of 3.0.
Coursework: Specific prerequisites vary, but most (>50%) require the following:
- Anatomy and Physiology (specific requirements vary)
- Note: Exercise physiology is generally not acceptable.
- Chemistry (8 credits)
- Physics (8 credits)
- Psychology (introductory course, plus one more, usually developmental or abnormal)
- General Biology (4-8 credits)
- Other courses vary by school, but may include higher math, English, other humanities, etc.
Volunteering: Those interested in PT should volunteer in at least one PT practice, though some programs prefer multiple practices. The number of hours required varies, but may be as high as 100 hours, and more is definitely better.
Other requirements: Many schools require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), and some stipulate minimum scores. Letters of recommendation (variable number) are requested, and at least one should come from a physical therapist with whom the candidate has volunteered.
Local PT Schools
Hampton University (Hampton, VA)
Marymount University (Arlington, VA)
Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA)
Radford University (Radford, VA)
Shenandoah University (Winchester, VA)
Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA)
West Virginia University (Morgantown, WV)
Wheeling Jesuit University (Wheeling, WV)
US Bureau of Labor Statistics
For information on Occupational Therapy, please contact the Department of Occupational Therapy directly.