July 21, 2024
Learn how to become a physical therapist and what skills and education are required to excel in this rewarding career. Discover available career opportunities, job outlook, and growth potential in this comprehensive guide.


Physical therapy is an exciting and fulfilling career path, attracting individuals who want to help people improve their quality of life. As the healthcare industry continues to grow, the demand for skilled physical therapists is on the rise. Becoming a physical therapist requires specific education and skills, practical experience, and licensing. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you through all these requirements, provide tips on finding a job, and much more.

Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a physical therapist can be a time-consuming process, but the rewards are worth it. Here are the basic steps to follow:

Education and Degree Requirements

To become a physical therapist, you need a doctoral degree in physical therapy (DPT). This typically takes three years of post-bachelor’s study. However, some schools offer six- and seven-year programs that combine an undergraduate and DPT degree.

Practical Experience

Most DPT programs require clinical experiences to supplement the classroom curriculum, such as student internships or externships. These hands-on experiences give students an opportunity to practice their skills under the guidance of licensed physical therapists.


To practice physical therapy, you must obtain a license from the state and pass the national Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). Some states also require additional certifications or exams, such as a jurisprudence exam to test knowledge of state-specific laws and regulations.

Job Search Strategies

After passing the licensing exam, you can begin your job search. You can find open positions online and on specialized job boards, such as the American Physical Therapy Association. Networking is also an excellent way to learn about job openings.

Educational Requirements

For aspiring physical therapists, there are several educational requirements to consider.

Type of Degree Required

A DPT degree is the minimum required educational qualification to work as a physical therapist. Ensure the school you choose is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

Schools and Programs to Attend

There are many schools and programs to choose from in the United States. Some of the most popular schools that offer DPT programs include the University of Southern California, Duke University, and the University of Delaware.

Required Coursework

The coursework for a physical therapy program will vary depending on the school. Students can expect to take courses like anatomy, physiology, ethics, and patient care. Additionally, clinical rotations help students gain practical experience in diagnosis, patient management, and treatment.

Skills Needed to be a Successful Physical Therapist

To excel as a physical therapist, you must have certain skills that go beyond academic knowledge.


As a physical therapist, you help people improve their quality of life. Empathy is an essential characteristic as it enables you to understand and connect with patients.

Good Communication Skills

Physical therapists must be able to communicate with patients, explain complex procedures in layman’s terms, and work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals like doctors and nurses.

Leadership Abilities

Physical therapists often work with healthcare teams, and leadership skills are crucial to lead and delegate tasks to others.

Passion for Health and Fitness

Additionally, physical therapists must be passionate about health, wellness, and fitness as they often incorporate exercise and wellness advice in their treatment plans.

Interview with a Pro

To get a real sense of what it takes to become and succeed as a physical therapist, we sat down with a pro.

Inspiration for Choosing Career Path

A physical therapist we interviewed stated that watching a family member recover from an accident inspired them to pursue a career in the field.

Biggest Challenges Faced Along the Way

In the interview, the physical therapist also identified a lack of diversity and representation in the physical therapy field as a significant challenge.

Tips and Advice for Aspiring Physical Therapists

The physical therapist we interviewed offered the following tips for those considering the path to become a physical therapist:
– Take the time to research different specialties within the field.
– Build relationships with peers and professionals to gain insight and valuable mentorship.
– Stay up-to-date on the latest techniques, technologies, and trends within the industry.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Physical Therapist

Like any career, becoming a physical therapist has both advantages and disadvantages.

Job Outlook and Growth Potential

Physical therapy is a growing field with a projected 18% growth rate from 2019-2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This high-growth rate illustrates a strong job market and excellent growth potential.

Work Environment

Physical therapists work in various settings, from private practices to hospitals to sports teams. While some settings may have demanding schedules, opportunities for flexible schedules and remote work exist.

Average Salary

In 2020, the median pay for a physical therapist was $91,010 annually or $43.77 per hour.

Career Opportunities

Physical therapists have several career paths available to them.

Working in Hospitals and Clinics

Physical therapists can work in hospitals and clinics where they can perform rehabilitation services to people with various illnesses or injuries.

Providing Services in Schools and Universities

Some physical therapists provide services to schools and universities, assisting children and young athletes with injuries and disabilities.

Starting a Private Practice

Physical therapists can start their own private practice, providing treatment and rehabilitation services to people in the community.


Becoming a physical therapist can be a rewarding and fulfilling career path for those who possess the required skills and education. With excellent job growth potential, a high average salary, and fascinating professional experiences, the road to becoming a physical therapist is a process worthy of investment and dedication.

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