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5 Steps to Become a Physical Therapist

Written by: Alex Brown
Published on: Apr 7, 2022

5 Steps to Become a Physical Therapist

Physical therapy is a rewarding career helping people live vibrant and healthy lives. Physical therapists (PT) assist ill and injured patients in improving their mobility and range of motion, managing their pain, and functioning their best. If you’ve fallen, suffered a strain, or undergone extensive surgery at some point, you’ve probably experienced the help a physical therapist can provide.

Are you considering becoming a physical therapist and diving into the field? Here is what you need to know about becoming a PT, including education, training, and licensing.


1) Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

For starters, you will have to obtain your bachelor’s degree. Although few colleges offer an undergraduate physical therapy degree per se, you can start your journey with a relevant, health-related degree. Such degrees will give you the foundational skills and knowledge needed in the field.

Typically, graduate programs will require that you have taken specific prerequisites courses including

  • Kinesiology
  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry

Take some time to find the prerequisites for the doctoral degree program you want to attend to ensure you take the most appropriate classes you will need.


2) Complete a Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program

Your next step is to earn your doctorate at an accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. The program typically takes three years, with curriculum including:

  • Biology and anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Biomechanics
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Biomechanics
  • Communication
  • Clinical reasoning
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Cardiovascular

Typically, the DPT curriculum is 80% didactic—or classroom-based—and the other 20% is clinical education.

physical therapist

3) Complete State Licensing Requirements

After receiving your doctorate, you must then become licensed in the state where you plan to practice. Licensure requirements will vary based on your state, so research your state board requirements.

Typically, states require that PT also fulfill other criteria in addition to testing, such as background checks and compliance training. Also, maintaining licensure requires additional educational requirements every two years. This additional training keeps PTs up to date on the latest standards and trends.


4) Pass the NPTE

The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) is a test administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). You need to pass it to be licensed as a physical therapist.

The NPTE has 250 multiple-choice questions split up into five parts. It is offered four times a year, and candidates are allowed to try up to three times in a single year to pass.


5) Complete an Optional Residency or Board Certification

Once you receive your license, you can now practice physical therapy. However, you also have the option to further your skills with a residency or fellowship program. There is also the option to become board-certified in a specialty focus, such as Women’s Health, Oncology, or Pediatrics.

Becoming a PT allows you to improve people’s lives in this demanding and rewarding field. It requires extensive education and training, but you will have various options for starting your PT practice. You can work in hospitals, patient homes, outpatient clinics, virtually, or even open your own private practice.

Want more information on starting a health career you love? Bookmark myHealthTalent for more tips and tricks.