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How to Become a Physical Therapist

How to Become a Physical Therapist | DPT Overview

As college students we are all faced with making several decisions about our future. We first try to pick a major and with all the options and career paths available to us in 2010 that is not always an easy or quick decision. The same circumstances apply to what we are faced with as students after we graduate. Should we be done with our education after we receive a two or four year degree? Which job path should we chose? Should we pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree? All of these questions have a plethora of answers, but one of those many answers is to pursue a career in Physical Therapy.

Physical Therapy is a health care profession which requires either a Masters of Physical Therapy (MPT) or a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT). The DPT is the newly preferred degree by the American Physical Therapy Association, or APTA, and will be the only accepted degree for physical therapists by the year 2015. According to the APTA, it is beneficial to us as future physical therapists to move to a DPT because it will direct us toward becoming autonomous health care providers to our patients and clients and it will help us to bill for reimbursement at the status of a physician; the DPT also focuses more on evidence-based practice and how to better incorporate this evidence into clinical practice.

A DPT is a three year program which incorporates all the various skills and knowledge we would need to practice as a physical therapist. The broad categories covered in a DPT program are health systems screening and diagnosis, pharmacology, imaging, health care management, prevention and wellness, pathology, and evidence-based practice. Students will also experience up to a year of clinical experience, which is much more than the 15 weeks an MPT student would usually experience. After obtaining your Doctorate of Physical Therapy, you would be required to pass the state licensure exam before you are able to practice.

So here we all are, in college and trying to make important decisions about our future, and this is where the ACSM is very helpful. Being a part of the ACSM is a great step in the right direction because it provides us early experience about the life of a professional. The ACSM allows us to connect with other students and share our experiences, and it gives us opportunities to network with professionals who have already made the decisions we are all trying to make. Mark Blegen, Ph.D, FACSM is the Associate Professor in the Exercise and Sport Science Department at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN and he advises several students who are in pursuit of their DPT, and he states, “I always tell my students who are unsure of what they would like to pursue to call a facility and shadow a professional in a career they are considering. First hand experiences will really help in the decision process. Also, being involved in the ACSM is very helpful and provides students opportunities to experience research, presentations, and what it’s like to attend conferences; those are experiences that cannot be gained in a class room.” Blegen also goes on to give advice to those applying to a DPT program, “Of course grades are important but they shouldn’t be the only focus of the student. Students should also observe, volunteer, or work in physical therapy settings to experience what it is like to be a physical therapist. And the GRE is also important so allow yourself time to study and prepare for it but also take it with enough time in advance of the application deadline so that you will be able to take it again if your aren’t happy with your scores the first time.”

Overall, the Doctorate of Physical Therapy education and career path is just one of the many options students may pursue. Hopefully as student members of the ASCM we can all use our resources and make a decision about our future that will allow us to pursue our interests and be happy to go to work every day.

Jessica Arechigo, Northland Student Rep and current DPT student