How Long Is Schooling for Physical Therapists?

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Many may know that the path into a career in physical therapy requires graduate school, but how long is schooling for physical therapists?

Physical therapists work one on one with various patient populations in various venues, including hospitals and independent clinics, are widely known.

The ability to treat a patient without a physician’s referral sets physical therapists apart from other medical specialists.

People frequently inquire about physical therapists to find out if medical school is required to obtain a license to practice medicine.

Medical school is not required for physical therapists. Programs leading to the title of “doctor of physical therapy” are housed under the school of medicine.

Although technically not “medical school,” these institutions still provide intensive medical instruction.

Physical therapists are studying to become “Doctors of Physical Therapy,” whereas students studying to become “Medical Doctors” attend medical school.

The Difference Between Medical School and Physical Therapy School

To paint a clearer picture of why medical schools are different from physical therapy schools, read their definitions below; maybe that will make it easier for you:

Physical Therapy School – it focuses primarily on ways to improve function and involvement following damage or disease to the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems.

The courses emphasize how to treat patients after diagnosis using evidence-based therapeutic exercise, manual treatments, and neuromuscular re-education.

Medical School – Through studies in microbiology, immunology, pharmacology, and pathology, this program focuses on general therapeutic principles.

The objective is to successfully instruct the aspiring MD to select the most appropriate testing techniques, diagnose disease, and provide patient care using the conventional medical model (pharmaceuticals and surgery).

So in short, medical school requires students to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) before beginning four rigorous years of clinically-focused medical education.

Medical schools prepare doctors who, after completing their education, will specialize through a residency.

On the other hand, a physical therapy doctorate is heavily research-oriented.

Movement specialists that provide physical healthcare are educated in physical therapy schools.

However, a clinical residency is completed by some physical therapists. A residency is a good method to start specializing in your field of greatest interest, much like medical school is.

What Does A Physical Therapist Do?

According to the (APTA) also known as American Physical Therapist Association, physical therapists are movement specialists who “optimise quality of life through directed exercise, on-the-spot attention, and patient education.”

Physical therapists assist their patients in a variety of methods, most of which include the movement of the body through exercises.

The range of a physical therapist’s practice includes avoiding injuries, rehabilitating patients, or assisting them in doing tasks for the first time.

Examining patients, assessing their conditions, checking for injuries or illnesses, diagnosing conditions, identifying prognoses, creating care plans, directing paperwork and care, and releasing patients at the conclusion of therapy are all common responsibilities of physical therapists.

Smiling young physical therapist using exercise ball for patient's legs workout in clinic, how long is schooling for physical therapists

Are Physical Therapists Doctors?

Physical therapists do really qualify as doctors. Depending on whom you ask, definitions may complicate this discussion. As google defines the word;

a person who is qualified to treat people who are ill or a person who holds the highest university degree.”

By definition, physical therapists have a doctoral degree and must be licenced in order to practise their profession. This includes, but is not limited to, identifying, treating, and instructing those who have injuries or illnesses.

Can Therapists Diagnose A Patient?

Physical therapists are capable of diagnosing patients. Physical therapists identify movement-related injuries or illnesses.

‘There are distinct diagnosis codes for M.D.s and DPTs because this differs from a medical diagnosis. 

Here is a real-world example of a patient who received diagnoses from a doctor and a physical therapist.

Medical Diagnosis – Right-sided foot discomfort

DPT (Physical Therapist) – Test and measurements that are consistent with a right talofibular ligament sprain of grade 3 that causes antalgic gait, decreased range of motion, strength, and proprioception

You can observe how much more precise the DPT’s diagnoses are when they pertain to the musculoskeletal system and movement disorders than the MD’s.

This in no way devalues doctors of medicine as practitioners. Both professions are necessary for the patient; they just serve distinct functions.

The M.D. would be in charge of prescribing drugs, recommending surgery, and placing sophisticated imaging orders.

The DPT would be in charge of reducing discomfort and impairment while also improving function (e.g., range of motion, strength, etc.) through exercise.

Physical Therapy Programs to Look Out For

If you are interested in becoming a physical therapist and looking to get your official license through online programs don’t forget to check out these programs:

Arcadia University (DPT) 

From a hybrid programme, obtain your DPT. Experience on-campus immersions and put online skills to use with real patients. 25 months are needed to finish the programme. Bachelor’s and GRE are needed.

  • The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education has accredited Arcadia University’s hybrid DPT programme, which is ranked #24 overall (CAPTE)
  • Completed in 25 months
  • 32 weeks of in-person training

For more information check this link.

USC Division of Biokineology and Physical Therapy (DPT)

Aspiring physical therapists can obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree through USC’s Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy in a cutting-edge hybrid style. Bachelor’s degree is necessary.

  • A three-year, full-time programme
  • Rich, varied clinical experiences over 44 weeks
  • regular trips to USC for skill-building immersions on campus

The hybrid DPT programme at USC combines online instruction with immersive, hands-on training.

Three essential elements make up the DPT@USC academic experience: online classes and coursework, on-campus immersions in Los Angeles, and clinical experiences in your neighbourhood or across the country.

Check this link for more info.

So, How Long Is Schooling for Physical Therapists?

Physical therapists perform a crucial, difficult profession that significantly impacts their patients’ quality of life.

To become a physical therapist, one must complete substantial academic and professional training even if not medical training

This training will roughly take about three years, a year less than traditional medical school, and won’t require a residency afterwards.

Physical therapists are fortunate to have the freedom to select certain patient populations, work environments, and specialities throughout their professional path.

They also benefit from competitive pay and the knowledge that their work matters.

We hope that by now you have a clear idea of whether physical therapists are doctors and why so if they are.

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