Becoming a Physical Therapist: 5 Steps for Pursuing This Career Path

“No pain, no gain,” or so the old adage goes. 

Pain intertwines with life, unfortunately: whether it manifests physically, mentally, or through some combination. Fortunately, we have dedicated, licensed professionals who help others manage such pain. 

Today’s topic covers physical therapists, specifically, how to become one. We break down the process in a few simple steps so anyone can understand what becoming a physical therapist means.

Keep reading to learn more!

Step One

Physical therapists must fulfill various education requirements, eventually earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), and obtaining a license to practice independently.

But first, we begin in the undergraduate years. A prospective physical therapist must graduate with a bachelor’s degree in some field related to health, sports, or exercise. Additionally, the student completes certain prerequisites depending on his or her desired graduate school.

Remember to research what different schools require!

Step Two

We’ve graduated…from our undergraduate years.

Now, it’s time for graduate school.

A prospective physical therapist should apply and enroll in a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. This varies per school, especially as remote and hybrid education becomes increasingly prevalent.

Generally speaking, a DPT takes three years to complete. A student takes various classes spanning biology, human health, and more during this time. He or she must also undergo some clinical work and lab experience. These may last a little over half of a year.

Step Three

Almost there! 

At this point, a prospective physical therapist takes a test called the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). This exam covers 250 multiple-choice questions over 5 sections. It runs once a month in January, April, July, and October. 

The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) considers a 600 as passing (on a scale from 200 to 800).

Fortunately, a place like Therapy Team exists, that offers tutoring, exam preparation, and more. Learn more, here:

Step Four

Time for licensure!

Licensure requirements differ per state, most of which require a passing NPTE, a background check, a compliance check, some continuing education courses, and so on. 

Thus, one should research his or her state’s requirements.

Always check with licensure boards to ensure a smooth transition!

Step 5 (Optional)

A person may also choose to specialize or complete a residency program as an optional fifth step. This entails supplementary course and clinical work to further specialize in the desired field. 

Specialize enough and one can shoot for board certifications with the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) in areas like Geriatrics, Neurology, and Oncology.

Requirements may vary per specialty. 

What Does Becoming a Physical Therapist Mean?

Congratulations on making it this far and becoming a physical therapist!

It has taken plenty of hard work, drive, education, money, and then some to do so. 

Remember to research the process (as with anything) and what each step entails (especially that NPTE)!

To learn more about becoming a physical therapist, studying for the NPTE, or anything else related to physical therapy, check out our related articles!