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July 31, 2023

Becoming a Physical Therapist: Time, Education, and Career Path

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Dr. Shefiu Lanre Shittu

President of Daily Care Solutions

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Helping patients increase their mobility, decrease their pain, and boost their quality of life is just the beginning of what makes physical therapy such a satisfying profession. Understanding the time commitment, educational requirements, and career paths available to you as a physical therapist is crucial if you're thinking about making this field your professional home. Here, we'll break down what it takes to become a physical therapist, so you can get a better feel for the field and make an educated decision about your future.

What It Takes to Become a Physical Therapist

The journey to becoming a physical therapist typically requires a commitment of six to seven years. This timeframe includes completing an undergraduate degree and pursuing a physical therapy graduate program. However, it's worth noting that an accelerated physical therapy program can allow you to graduate in as little as six years. 

Related Link: Locum Tenens Salary

A physical therapist helping out a man

Understanding the Role of a Physical Therapist

Therapists in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation play an important role in the treatment and management of a variety of conditions and injuries. Physical therapists typically do the following types of work:

  • Checking the patient's medical records for clues about the illness.
  • Discussions with patients to learn about their conditions, worries, and desired outcomes.
  • Making a correct diagnosis by watching and analyzing a patient's motions.
  • Making unique plans for each patient that take into account their conditions, symptoms, and desired outcomes.
  • The key to successful recovery is setting quantifiable goals against which to measure improvement.
  • Instructing patients in the best ways to carry out therapeutic activities.
  • A combination of massage and other pain-relieving physical therapy techniques.

Exploring Different Degree Paths for Physical Therapists

When pursuing a career in physical therapy, there are multiple degree paths to consider. Each path has its unique requirements and advantages, allowing you to choose the one that aligns best with your goals and circumstances. Let's explore some of the common degree paths available to prospective physical therapists:

Traditional Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program:

Duration: Three years

Curriculum: A comprehensive program covering scientific fundamentals, musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems, business management, ethics, clinical internships, and capstone projects.

Accelerated Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Physical Therapy (BS/DPT) Program:

Duration: Approximately six years

Requirements: A high school diploma or equivalent

Curriculum: Involves completing an undergraduate program (natural science, life science, athletic training, biology) followed by graduate-level coursework similar to a traditional DPT program.

Freshman-to-Doctorate Program:

Duration: Six years

Requirements: A high school diploma or equivalent

Curriculum: Combines undergraduate and graduate studies, allowing you to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in a relevant field (e.g., biology, physiological sciences) before progressing to doctoral-level courses.

Transitional DPT (t-DPT) Program:

Target audience: Physical therapists with a master's degree

Purpose: Enhancing knowledge, staying updated with advanced treatments, and ensuring competitiveness in the field.

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Physical Therapist

To pursue a career as a physical therapist, you need to earn both a bachelor's degree and a doctoral degree from an accredited physical therapy program. During your studies, you'll encounter courses such as biology, exercise physiology, pathology, and other subjects relevant to the field. Practical clinical experience is also a vital component of your learning journey. Therefore, when selecting a program, consider the clinical experience requirements, as they significantly contribute to your professional development. While some programs may require a minimum of 38 weeks of clinical experience, others might mandate a more extensive commitment.

Ready to become a physical therapist? Start your journey today. Contact us for guidance and support.

Additional Requirements and Certifications

In addition to completing the required educational programs, aspiring physical therapists must pass national and state licensure exams to obtain certification. These exams assess your knowledge and competence in the field, with state licensure granting you the legal authority to practice physical therapy within a specific jurisdiction. Furthermore, as a physical therapist, you have the option to pursue certification in a particular clinical specialty. Some physical therapy schools offer specialized programs tailored to specific certifications, so thorough research is essential to ensure you're preparing yourself accordingly.

Related Link: Top Patient Retention Strategies You Need to Know About

Physical therapist helping a patient strengthen her knees

Essential Skills for a Physical Therapist

To excel as a physical therapist, you need a combination of hard and soft skills to deliver the best possible care to your patients. Here are some key skills that are crucial for success in this profession:

  • Communication: Effective communication is paramount in establishing rapport with patients, their families, and the medical team. Strong oral and written communication skills, along with active listening abilities, allow you to convey information clearly and empathetically.
  • Detail Orientation: Physical therapists must pay close attention to detail to accurately monitor patients' progress, record vital signs, and ensure adherence to treatment plans. Being detail-oriented helps provide comprehensive care and track improvements effectively.
  • Treatment Planning: Physical therapists must possess the fundamental ability to create individualized treatment plans based on the unique requirements of each patient. This entails carrying out thorough assessments, carrying out physical examinations, and developing tailored programs that take into account the patient's objectives.
  • Empathy and Compassion: During the rehabilitation process, building trust and offering emotional support to patients requires a compassionate approach and empathy. Physical therapists frequently deal with people who are in pain or having physical difficulties, so compassion is a must.
  • Problem-Solving: Physical therapists frequently face particular difficulties as their patients make progress in their recovery. To overcome obstacles and get the results you want, you must be able to apply innovative strategies, adapt treatment plans as necessary, and think critically.

Starting a Successful Career

Although becoming a physical therapist requires a sizable time and energy commitment, the rewards are enormous. You have the chance to truly impact people's lives as a physical therapist by assisting in their recovery of mobility, pain management, and general well-being. You can confidently start a rewarding career as a physical therapist if you are aware of the educational prerequisites, career options, and key competencies required to succeed in this industry.

How Daily Care Solutions Can Help.

Daily Care Solutions recognizes the unique challenges that those pursuing a career in physical therapy face. Our services are intended to help aspiring physical therapists with their educational journeys, to provide staffing solutions for healthcare organizations, and to ensure the best possible patient care. We meet the needs of healthcare facilities by providing experienced practitioners, flexible staffing options, and quality assurance through our contracted hospital services. Our consulting services are geared toward assisting healthcare organizations in meeting their objectives, improving patient outcomes, and maximizing their financial performance. We also offer changing team solutions, which include flexible staffing options that align with the changing staffing levels and expertise required by healthcare organizations. We can provide highly skilled professionals such as hospitalists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to ensure continuity of care with our interim medical professional coverage. 

Considering a career as a physical therapist? Get the information you need to decide. Reach out to us now.

Becoming a Physical Therapist

Becoming a physical therapist involves dedication, perseverance, and a genuine passion for helping others. The educational journey may take six to seven years, including completing an undergraduate degree and pursuing a physical therapy graduate program. With different degree paths available, such as traditional DPT programs, accelerated BS/DPT programs, and freshman-to-doctorate tracks, you can choose the path that suits your goals and circumstances. By developing essential skills like communication, detail orientation, treatment planning, empathy, and problem-solving, you can excel in this rewarding profession and positively impact the lives of your patients.

Related Link: Medical Recruiting Strategies To Hire Better Talent

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Dr. Shefiu Lanre Shittu

President of Daily Care Solutions

Internal Medicine physician with over 10 years of experience in medical staffing solution. Completed medical education and residency in Columbia University. Provided expert oversight to private groups and hospitals. Contracted services organization and Take charge of establishing three hospitalist programs from inception to completion. Develop the scope of practice and negotiate contracts with other departments and specialties. Perform a wide range of tasks including contract negotiations, revenue cycle and human resource management, process improvement, and introduction of interdisciplinary rounding. Drove key efforts toward the reduction of cost of running programs by approximately 15-20%. Identified staffing needs while creating unique staffing plans for programs.

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