Becoming a physical therapist previously required a master’s level education. However, due to the APTA’s constant push for raising standards in the profession, a more advanced degree – Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) –
will soon be is now required for new students to become a PT.
The DPT is now considered entry-level and the only PT degree offered by schools in the United States.
The following explains what difference having the DPT designation makes and also includes a couple tips for those of you who will be applying to physical therapy school in the future.
MPT vs. DPT
If you already have a BPT or MPT you can still practice, however all new students moving forward will be getting a DPT. MPT is no longer an option – at least in the U.S. Keep in mind, the APTA’s goal is to eventually have all PT’s on the doctorate level by encouraging practicing BPTs and MPTs to get their DPT. You can plan on seeing a growing number of transitional or bridge programs to facilitate this; however, to reiterate, there has been no change that prevents the practice of physical therapy by BPTs or MPTs at this time.
New Entry-Level Degree
In the past, the APTA highly recommended future physical therapists to pursue a DPT (back when MPT was also an option). The reason being, it would unequivocally guide PTs in coming to be independent healthcare professionals by enabling them to bill statements for compensation in a similar manner to that of a physician, amongst other degrees of autonomy. The APTA has realized a significant part of this vision by successfully having all U.S. schools eliminate their MPT programs – essentially making the DPT the official entry-level degree for the profession.
Please note, if you go ahead and read APTA’s “old” Vision 2020 statement, where it says, “By 2020, physical therapy will be provided by…doctors of physical therapy”, remember this was just a hypothetical statement of their goal, which now appears to have been too ambitious and optimistic. This is probably why they left it out, at least explicitly, of their new vision statement. Whether or not state legislature will require all PTs to have the more advanced designation for employment in the future remains to be seen, but is not likely to happen any time soon.
The DPT Difference
Taking 3 years to complete, DPT students go through approximately 1 year of clinical experience, which is considerably more than the fifteen weeks that had been required of a Master’s of Physical Therapy student.
Delving further into areas of medicine the MPT had not, a typical DPT program encompasses physical (and to a limited extent, mental) health systems evaluation and analysis, pharmacology, imaging, healthcare management, preventive medicine, well-being, and pathology – with emphasis on evidence-based treatment.
Improve Your Chances of Getting into a DPT Program
Tip #1: Get Involved with the American College of Sports Medicine
Belonging to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) will give you a head start on your road to becoming a PT. The ACSM enables you to link up with other student members and exchange your trials and tribulations. Furthermore, it will help you connect with physical therapists for observation or shadowing opportunities to gain the formative experience that DPT admissions love to see.
Overall, being an ACSM student member shows you’ve went that “extra mile” in showing interest in this field and provides opportunities to network and gain experience that can’t be picked up in a classroom.
Tip #2: Make Sure Your Application is Well-Rounded
For those students going through with the DPT program application process, good grades are essential however they should not be the primary focal point of you application. It’s highly recommended and required by some schools to observe, volunteer, or seek employment in the physical therapy field to experience exactly what it’s like to be a physical therapist.
Furthermore, the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is also another crucial component of your application. Enable adequate time to get ready for it however make sure to allow enough time in advance of the application target date so that you can take it once more if your aren’t too happy with your scores the first time around.
Our in-depth guide to becoming a physical therapist can be found here.