Physical therapy is a healthcare profession that focuses on the prevention, treatment, and management of movement disorders and disabilities. Physical therapists work with patients of all ages and backgrounds to help them regain mobility, reduce pain, and improve their overall quality of life. Becoming a physical therapist requires advanced education and specialized training, and one of the first steps in this process is choosing an appropriate undergraduate major.
While there is no single “correct” major for aspiring physical therapists, certain fields of study can provide a strong foundation for this career path. Many physical therapy programs recommend or require applicants to have a background in biology, anatomy, or kinesiology, as these subjects provide a deep understanding of the human body and its movement. Other majors, such as exercise science, health science, psychology, and athletic training, can also be beneficial for students interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy.
In this article, we will explore some of the most common undergraduate majors for physical therapy students, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each option. Whether you are a high school student considering your college options or a current undergraduate looking to switch majors, this guide will provide valuable insights into the educational requirements and career opportunities in the field of physical therapy.
Physical therapy is a healthcare profession that requires a high level of education, training, and licensure. To become a physical therapist, you must meet certain education requirements. These requirements include obtaining an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree.
Typically, students who want to become physical therapists will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a field related to health science, exercise, and/or sports. Some common undergraduate majors for aspiring physical therapists include:
- Exercise Science
- Health Science
During their undergraduate studies, students will need to complete prerequisite courses in subjects like anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry. These courses provide the foundational knowledge needed to succeed in a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.
To become a licensed physical therapist, students will need to earn a DPT degree. DPT programs typically last about three years and are offered at universities and colleges across the United States. During a DPT program, students will take courses in subjects like:
- Therapeutic Exercise
Students will also complete clinical rotations, where they will gain hands-on experience working with patients under the supervision of licensed physical therapists. After completing their DPT program, students will need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to become licensed to practice in their state.
In summary, to become a physical therapist, students will need to earn an undergraduate degree in a related field and a DPT degree. They will also need to complete prerequisite courses and clinical rotations, and pass the NPTE to become licensed.
Licensure and Certification
To practice as a physical therapist in the United States, you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredited program. In addition to the DPT degree, physical therapists must also pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).
Once a physical therapist has passed the NPTE, they must apply for licensure in the state where they wish to practice. Each state has its own requirements, but most require proof of graduation from an accredited physical therapy program, passing the NPTE, and passing a jurisprudence exam that tests knowledge of state laws and regulations related to physical therapy practice.
Physical therapists can also choose to pursue specialty certifications through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). These certifications demonstrate advanced knowledge and skills in a particular area of physical therapy practice. There are eight specialty certifications available, including:
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
- Clinical Electrophysiology
Earning a specialty certification requires additional education, clinical experience, and passing a certification exam. Physical therapists must also maintain their licensure and certifications by completing continuing education requirements.
Skills and Qualities
Physical Stamina and Dexterity
Physical therapists work with patients who may have difficulty moving or performing certain tasks due to injuries or illnesses. As such, physical therapists must have excellent physical stamina and dexterity to be able to work with patients for extended periods of time and perform tasks such as manual therapy, exercises, and stretches. They must also be able to lift and move patients who may be unable to move on their own.
Physical therapists work closely with patients, their families, and other healthcare professionals to provide the best possible care. As such, they must have excellent interpersonal skills to be able to communicate effectively with patients and their families, listen to their concerns, and develop treatment plans that meet their needs. They must also be able to work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals to ensure that patients receive comprehensive care.
Physical therapists must be able to analyze patients’ medical histories, symptoms, and test results to develop effective treatment plans. They must also be able to monitor patients’ progress and adjust treatment plans as needed. As such, they must have excellent analytical skills to be able to interpret complex medical information and make informed decisions about patients’ care.
Overall, physical therapists must have a combination of physical, interpersonal, and analytical skills to be able to provide the best possible care to their patients.
The job outlook for physical therapists is very positive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 17 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is due to several factors, including an aging population, increased awareness of the benefits of physical therapy, and advances in medical technology.
In addition, as healthcare continues to evolve and become more complex, physical therapists will be needed to help patients recover from injuries and manage chronic conditions. This increased demand for physical therapy services will lead to the creation of new jobs and opportunities for physical therapists.
Physical therapists are well-compensated for their work. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for physical therapists was $91,010 as of May 2021. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $63,950, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $128,060.
However, it is important to note that salaries can vary depending on several factors, including location, experience, and employer. Physical therapists who work in urban areas or in specialized fields may earn higher salaries than those who work in rural areas or in general practice.
Overall, physical therapy is a rewarding and lucrative career that offers excellent job prospects and opportunities for growth and advancement.
Physical therapy is a rewarding and challenging career that requires a lot of education and training. To become a physical therapist, you will need to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree from an accredited program, which typically takes three years to complete. You will also need to pass a state licensing exam to practice as a physical therapist.
Physical therapists work with patients of all ages and backgrounds, helping them to recover from injuries and illnesses, manage chronic conditions, and improve their overall quality of life. They use a variety of techniques, including exercise, manual therapy, and modalities like heat and cold therapy, to help patients achieve their goals.
If you’re interested in becoming a physical therapist, it’s important to have a strong foundation in science and math, as well as excellent communication and interpersonal skills. You should also be prepared to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and private practices.
In conclusion, physical therapy is a dynamic and rewarding field that offers a variety of opportunities for those who are willing to put in the time and effort to become licensed physical therapists. With the demand for physical therapy services on the rise, there has never been a better time to pursue a career in this exciting field.