Whether you are currently in college and thinking about your future, or you are further along in your studies, you might wonder about the degree needed to become a physical therapist. A physical therapist is someone who works with multiple patients and helps those patients recover from illnesses and injuries that prevent them from engaging in their regular activities. They might help those with broken bones, sprains and other injuries, but they can also support patients recovering from strokes, heart attacks and other conditions. Earning the right degree can help you become a therapist after graduating.
One degree needed to become a physical therapist is an undergraduate degree in science or a medical field. Most colleges in the country do not offer undergraduate programs in physical therapy, but you may find some schools that offer training for future therapists. Some of those working in physical therapy have an undergraduate degree in nursing or follow a pre-med path. Going to college helps you develop a strong background in physiology, biology and human anatomy. You'll better understand how the human body reacts to different conditions and what you can do to help heal the body.
After finishing college, you can expect to spend at least two years in a graduate program devoted solely to physical therapy. When applying to graduate school, you need to include a copy of your undergraduate transcript that shows you took the minimum number of science courses required for admission to the program. Before taking the national examination required of therapists, you need to have a minimum of a master's degree. Some graduate schools also have an internship requirement that asks you to spend six months or longer working in the field with patients.
Depending on where you want to work, you might find that the degree needed to become a physical therapist is a doctoral degree. Earning a Ph.D often takes more time and work than it does to earn any other type of degree. In addition to spending some type in the classroom, you'll spend even more time working with patients under the direct supervision of a licensed therapist. Doctoral programs often have some type of research component as well. Rather than working on an extended paper, you might have the chance to show how the skills you learned in the program apply to the way you work with your patients.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a residency requirement is part of many physical therapy programs. Once you finish your studies, you select a concentration or a key part of PT that you want to study. You'll then spend one year or more working in that field at a local rehabilitation center or a similar medical facility. The BLS also found that some therapists later do a fellowship. A fellowship is usually a paid program that lets you gain more experience working with patients in a key area of physical therapy after college.
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Physical therapists help patients get and stay motivated when recovering from medical conditions and injuries. They often work in rehabilitation centers, hospitals and other medical centers. Before you can gain employment in the PT field, you need to know the type of degree needed to become a physical therapist, which may include a master's degree or a Ph.D.