Online PhD in Physical Therapy

Physical therapists work with patients in developing fitness and wellness-centric regimens that promote healthy living. Physical therapists are licensed professionals who help their patients reduce pain and improve mobility, oftentimes without surgery or medications. All practicing physical therapists must obtain a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapist degree program before they are allowed to legally practice physical therapy. A doctorate degree is strongly recommended for students who intend to make physical therapy their full-time career.

For physical therapists who aspire to work in private practices, hospitals, schools, sports facilities, etc. getting a physical therapy doctoral degree is strongly recommended. Before beginning their careers, physical therapists must obtain a degree from an accredited physical therapist school/program and take the national licensure examination that allows them to legally practice. Degree programs typically take three years to complete. In obtaining a physical therapy graduate degree, students can become confident, knowledgeable practitioners who promote physical well-being by practicing, teaching, and researching physical therapy long after they obtain their degree.

About Online PhD Programs in Physical Therapy

Early course work in a physical therapy degree program has a rather strong emphasis on science. Ph.D. students should expect to take classes in biology, anatomy, chemistry, and physics as well as general courses. In the later stages of a physical therapy degree program, students will have courses that are much more specific to physical therapy, such as biomechanics, neuro-anatomy, human growth and development, disease manifestations, examination techniques, therapeutic procedures, and numerous others. All of these courses are central to the education of today's physical therapists.

Year One:

  • Human Gross Anatomy This first-year course provides an overview of the structure and function of the human body with an emphasis in surface anatomy, radiology, embryology, and a myriad of other topics.
  • Basic Physical Therapy SkillsThis basic course educates students about strengthening the flexibility and function of the human body with specific attention to physical impairments, physical pain, and movement disorders.
  • Exercise Testing and Prescription in Physical TherapyThis course teaches students about the human body's physical responses to activity and exercise with emphasis in energy, exercise testing, and the development of prescriptions.

Year Two:

  • Neuromuscular Physical TherapyThis physical therapy course teaches students about existing/potential treatments of patients with neuromuscular disorders and complications.
  • Practice Management IssuesThis mandatory course is an overview of the current practice management issues related to communication, supervision, time management, and psychosocial aspects of patients.
  • Pediatric Physical TherapyThis course provides students with an overview of treating children who have developmental disorders and/or a number of other chronic physical conditions.

In terms of dissertations, students must select a topic within the field of physical therapy and include original research that strives to bring new, relevant, and important information to the physical therapy industry. In choosing a topic, students typically select a subject within their clinical research studies. Students usually work side-by-side with professors and fellow students in furthering and developing their dissertations. Clinical research and analysis are the most important steps in developing dissertation topics.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Physical Therapy

There are a number of pros in obtaining a physical therapy graduate degree. For one, the job security of physical therapists is extremely strong, given the fact there is always a need for experts in the medical field. Secondly, the average annual salary of physical therapists is very competitive, with most beginning at around $80,000. Perhaps the most attractive feature of the physical therapy profession is the fact that it is an extremely rewarding profession, given that it helps people regain physical mobility and strength.

There are a few cons of obtaining a PhD in physical therapy. For one thing, it isn't required of students to obtain a PhD in physical therapy. In fact, a student can start practicing physical therapy after obtaining a master's degree and passing their licensing exam. Lastly, the cost of obtaining a PhD in physical therapy can be quite high, depending on what school a student selects. The pros of obtaining a PhD in physical therapy greatly outweigh the cons, however.

Application & Admission Requirements

Although there are different requirements from every college or university, most schools require a basic list of requirements from their Ph.D. students. Generally, physical therapy PhD students must have experience as a physical therapist assistant, or have even started practicing physical therapy, after being licensed to do so. In order to attend an online PhD program in physical therapy, students must have a master's degree in physical therapy from an accredited university, a 3.0 GPA, a license to practice physical therapy in the U.S., a basic course in statistics, and a GRE score. Other potential requirements to expect include an online application, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, a resume, a copy of a license to practice physical therapy, and an in-person interview. Additional requirements can exist as well, such as selecting a specific physical therapy concentration.

Career Options & Job Market

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the physical therapy job market is expected to grow by 39 percent in the next 8 years. This growth is actually much faster and higher than most U.S. careers. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, physical therapists earn an average of $80,000 a year. Differences in annual salary usually depend on years of experience, geographic location, and practice type. Physical therapists provide care in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, schools, orthopedics, and nursing homes. State licensure is required in each state.

Where to Find Information

  • American Physical Therapy Association The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is a nationally renowned physical therapy association that fosters professional and educational developments in the physical therapy profession.
  • The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy is the administrator of the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) that licenses physical therapists in the U.S., the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
  • World Confederation of Physical Therapy The World Confederation for Physical Therapy (WCPT) is an international non-profit professional organization that represents over 300,000 licensed physical therapists worldwide.

How to Get Funding

Entry-level physical therapy PhD programs typically cost anywhere from $25,000 to $60,000. A number of financial aid and/or scholarships options are available to Ph.D. students who display financial need or academic potential. To be considered for scholarships or financial aid, students must be enrolled in a Ph.D. program and meet all the specific school's admission requirements. The best way to go about obtaining financial aid is to apply through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Scholarships are available through individuals schools as well as throughout the physical therapy professional community.

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan. This student aid program offers students low-interest loans while they pursue their Ph.D. program. The maximum loan available to students is $20,500 per academic year, and there is a fixed interest rate of 6.80%.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. In the case of full-time students with the most need for financial assistance, the Federal Perkins low-interest loan can be awarded, offering an average of $3,500 per academic year — with a fixed interest rate at 5.0%.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Campus-based programs are managed by the financial aid office of your university. Of course, all schools actively participate in almost every program made available by the federal government.

Essential Advice

  • Before choosing a Ph.D. program, you should look over the specific admission requirements for individual schools. Each university or college will have different courses and clinical experience requirements, so it's best to prepare yourself in learning what you'll experience at each school.
  • Clinical experience is key for students interested in obtaining a PhD in physical therapy. Most schools require a minimum of 50-100 hours of clinical experience before admitting a student to a physical therapy PhD program.
  • If you're in the middle of completing you master's degree, make sure to establish a strong academic record. For most PhD physical therapy programs, a 3.0 GPA is required, but the best schools have students with an average GPA of 3.5-3.7.
  • PhD physical therapy students also need to demonstrate a commitment and interest in non-academic activities. Schools like to see leadership in extracurricular, community, or clinical work activities.