How to Become a Physical Therapist: Tips and Requirements

Physical therapy is a growing field, and for good reason. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 18% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. With an aging population and increased focus on preventative healthcare measures, the demand for qualified physical therapists will only continue to rise.

However, becoming a physical therapist requires a significant amount of education and training. It can be a daunting task for those who are unfamiliar with the process. In this guide, we will walk you through the steps necessary to become a physical therapist, from educational requirements to career opportunities. Whether you are just starting out on your journey or looking to make a career change, this guide will provide you with the information you need to succeed in this rewarding healthcare profession.

What is a Physical Therapist?

Roles and Responsibilities

As a physical therapist, one of your most important roles is helping patients recover from injuries and illnesses. Rehabilitation is an essential part of this process, and it involves creating personalized treatment plans that incorporate exercises, stretches, and other therapeutic techniques to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

Injury prevention is also a major responsibility for physical therapists. By working with patients to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities, you can develop strategies to reduce these risks and prevent future injuries. This might involve educating patients about proper body mechanics and posture, recommending specific exercises or stretches, or advising them on appropriate footwear or equipment.

Another critical responsibility of physical therapists is pain management. Many patients come to physical therapy seeking relief from chronic or acute pain, and it’s up to the physical therapist to develop a treatment plan that addresses their individual needs and goals. This might include manual therapies like massage or joint mobilization, as well as modalities such as heat or cold therapy, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound.

Ultimately, the role of a physical therapist is multifaceted and complex. It requires not only a deep understanding of anatomy and physiology but also excellent communication skills, empathy, and the ability to think critically and problem-solve. By embracing these responsibilities and working closely with your patients, you can help them achieve their goals and live healthier, happier lives.

Skills Required

Skills Required

Becoming a physical therapist requires more than just a degree. It is also essential to possess certain skills to excel in this role. Here are some of the most important skills required to become a successful physical therapist:


As a physical therapist, you will work with patients from different backgrounds and age groups. Clear communication is key when explaining treatment plans or providing instructions for exercises. You must be able to communicate effectively with your patients, their families, and other healthcare professionals involved in their care. Good communication skills can also help build trust and rapport with patients, making them feel more comfortable during their therapy sessions.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. As a physical therapist, you will work with patients who may be in pain or discomfort. Having empathy towards your patients can help you understand their needs better and provide more personalized care. It can also help you develop a strong patient-therapist relationship, which is crucial for a successful outcome.

Analytical Skills

Physical therapists need to have excellent analytical skills to evaluate patients’ conditions and develop effective treatment plans. You must be able to analyze data from multiple sources, such as medical records, diagnostic tests, and patient feedback, to make informed decisions about the best course of treatment. Analytical skills can help you identify underlying issues and adjust treatment plans accordingly, ensuring that your patients receive the best possible care.

In conclusion, developing these skills can help aspiring physical therapists stand out in a competitive job market and provide better care to their patients. It takes time and practice to hone these skills, but with dedication and effort, they can be mastered.

Educational Requirements

Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor’s Degree

Earning a Bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a physical therapist. While there are no specific undergraduate majors required, it’s recommended to pursue a degree in pre-physical therapy, kinesiology, or exercise science. These majors provide a solid foundation in anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics, which are essential for success in a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.

A pre-physical therapy major is designed specifically for students who plan to pursue physical therapy as a career. This major includes courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology, as well as specific classes related to physical therapy such as therapeutic exercise, kinesiology, and human movement analysis.

Kinesiology is the study of human movement and physical activity. This major focuses on understanding how the body moves and responds to different types of exercise and physical activity. Courses may include exercise physiology, biomechanics, motor control, and sports medicine.

Exercise science is a broader field that encompasses the study of exercise, fitness, and wellness. This major covers topics such as nutrition, health promotion, and exercise prescription. Coursework may include anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, and statistics.

It’s important to note that admission to a DPT program is highly competitive, and a strong undergraduate academic record is essential for gaining acceptance. In addition to completing the necessary coursework, aspiring physical therapists should also gain practical experience through internships or volunteer work in healthcare settings.

Overall, earning a Bachelor’s degree in pre-physical therapy, kinesiology, or exercise science provides a solid foundation for success in a DPT program and ultimately a career as a physical therapist.

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree

To become a physical therapist, you will need to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. This is the only degree that qualifies you to take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) and apply for a license to practice as a physical therapist in the United States.

An accredited DPT program typically takes three years to complete and includes both academic coursework and clinical rotations. These programs are designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the human body and its movement, as well as the knowledge and skills necessary to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions.

One of the key components of a DPT program is clinical rotations, which provide students with hands-on experience in various healthcare settings. During these rotations, students have the opportunity to work with patients and apply their classroom learning in a real-world setting. Clinical rotations can take place in a variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, and rehabilitation centers.

Another important aspect of a DPT program is research. Students are expected to conduct original research and contribute to the field of physical therapy. This research may focus on improving existing treatments, developing new techniques, or exploring the underlying mechanisms of physical therapy.

Overall, obtaining a DPT degree is a rigorous process that requires dedication, hard work, and a genuine passion for helping others. However, it is also an incredibly rewarding experience that provides the knowledge and skills needed to make a real difference in the lives of patients.

Licensing Exam

To become a licensed physical therapist in the United States, passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) is mandatory. This exam is designed to test the candidate’s knowledge and understanding of physical therapy concepts, terminology, and best practices.

The NPTE is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) and consists of 250 multiple-choice questions. The test is divided into four sections: patient/client management, interventions, systems, and equipment, and professional responsibilities.

In addition to the NPTE, each state has its own set of requirements for obtaining a license to practice physical therapy. Some states may require additional exams or coursework, while others may have specific licensing fees or continuing education requirements.

It is important for aspiring physical therapists to research their state’s requirements thoroughly and ensure they meet all criteria before sitting for the NPTE. Failure to comply with state-specific requirements can result in delays or even denial of licensure.

Overall, passing the NPTE and meeting state-specific requirements are essential steps towards becoming a licensed physical therapist. It takes dedication, hard work, and commitment to navigate the licensure process successfully. However, the reward of being able to help patients improve their quality of life through physical therapy makes it all worth it.

Career Opportunities



Physical therapy is a vast and diverse field, offering many specializations for professionals to explore. Some of the most popular specializations include orthopedics, sports medicine, and pediatrics. Each specialization requires additional training and education beyond the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, but offers unique opportunities to work with specific patient populations.


Orthopedic physical therapists specialize in the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and conditions. They work with patients who suffer from issues such as back pain, arthritis, and post-surgical rehabilitation. Orthopedic physical therapists use various techniques such as manual therapy, exercise, and modalities like heat or cold to improve movement and reduce pain.

Orthopedic physical therapists may work in hospitals, private clinics, or sports medicine centers. They may also specialize in certain areas such as geriatrics or neurology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for physical therapists specializing in orthopedics is $89,440.

Sports Medicine

Sports medicine physical therapists specialize in the treatment and prevention of athletic injuries. They work with athletes of all ages and skill levels, from professional athletes to weekend warriors. Sports medicine physical therapists use exercises, stretching, and other techniques to help athletes recover from injuries and prevent further ones from occurring.

Sports medicine physical therapists may work in college or professional sports settings, or in private clinics. They may also collaborate with coaches and athletic trainers to develop injury prevention programs. The median annual salary for physical therapists specializing in sports medicine is $89,440 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Pediatric physical therapists specialize in working with children from infancy through adolescence. They treat a variety of conditions including developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. Pediatric physical therapists may use play-based therapy and other techniques to motivate children and help them achieve their goals.

Pediatric physical therapists typically work in schools or hospitals, and may collaborate with teachers, parents, and other healthcare providers. They may also provide home-based therapy services for children who need it. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for physical therapists specializing in pediatrics is $89,440.

In conclusion, choosing a specialization in physical therapy can be an excellent way to focus your career and work with specific patient populations. Whether you choose orthopedics, sports medicine, pediatrics, or another specialization, the opportunities for growth and development are endless.

Salary and Job Outlook

Salary and Job Outlook

Physical therapy is a highly rewarding career, both in terms of job satisfaction and financial compensation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for physical therapists in the United States was $89,440 as of May 2020. This means that half of all physical therapists earned more than this amount, while the other half earned less.

Employment in the field of physical therapy is projected to grow by 18% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all occupations. This is due to several factors, including an aging population that requires rehabilitative services, advances in medical technology that allow for better treatment outcomes, and increased recognition of the benefits of physical therapy in managing chronic conditions.

In addition to competitive salaries and promising job prospects, physical therapy also offers high levels of job satisfaction. A survey conducted by the American Physical Therapy Association found that over 90% of physical therapists were satisfied with their career choice, citing reasons such as helping people improve their quality of life, working in a dynamic and challenging environment, and having opportunities for professional growth and development.

Overall, physical therapy is an excellent career choice for those who are passionate about helping others achieve their full potential and enjoy working in a dynamic and rewarding healthcare environment. With competitive salaries, promising job prospects, and high levels of job satisfaction, physical therapy offers a bright future for those pursuing this career path.
Becoming a physical therapist is a challenging and rewarding journey that requires dedication, hard work, and commitment. In this comprehensive guide, we have explored the roles and responsibilities of physical therapists, the educational requirements, and the many career opportunities available in this growing field. We have learned that physical therapy is an essential component of healthcare, providing patients with rehabilitation, injury prevention, and pain management services. If you are considering a career as a physical therapist, it is important to have strong communication skills, empathy, and analytical abilities. With the right education and training, you can pursue a variety of specializations and enjoy a fulfilling career with a competitive salary and job satisfaction. We hope this guide has been informative and helpful in your journey towards becoming a physical therapist.

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