May 17, 2024

How Long Does it Take to Become a Physical Therapist?

A physical therapist works with a patient to do exercises using an elastic band.

Becoming a physical therapist (PT) is a rewarding yet demanding journey that requires dedication, perseverance, and a significant investment of time and effort. While the average timeline spans seven to eight years, let's delve deeper into why it takes this long and how various factors can influence the duration.

The short answer: How long does it take to become a physical therapist?

Becoming a physical therapist typically takes around seven to eight years, including undergraduate studies and a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. However, the journey's duration can vary based on individual circumstances, academic choices, and professional goals.

Below, we’ll dive into the steps to become a PT and what you can expect at each stage.

Undergraduate education

The first step towards becoming a physical therapist is completing a bachelor's degree, typically in a related field such as biology, kinesiology, or exercise science. This undergraduate education lays the foundation for understanding human anatomy, physiology, and other fundamental sciences crucial for the practice of physical therapy.

How long it takes: Completing a bachelor's degree usually takes around four years, although some students may take longer due to part-time enrollment, academic challenges, or pursuing additional certifications or minors.

Prerequisite courses

During their undergraduate studies, aspiring physical therapists must complete specific prerequisite courses required by DPT programs. These courses often include biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and statistics, among others. Fulfilling these prerequisites ensures that students have a solid academic background before entering a graduate-level program.

How long it takes: Depending on the student's academic background and course load, fulfilling prerequisite courses can take one to two years.

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program

After completing their undergraduate education and fulfilling prerequisite requirements, aspiring physical therapists must enroll in a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). DPT programs typically last three years and provide comprehensive education and clinical training in areas such as musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiopulmonary, and pediatric physical therapy.

How long it takes: The DPT program itself spans three years of intensive coursework, clinical rotations, and research experiences.

Clinical rotations

One of the most critical components of a DPT program is clinical education, where students gain hands-on experience working with patients under the supervision of licensed physical therapists. Clinical rotations typically occur in various settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, and schools, allowing students to apply their classroom knowledge in real-world scenarios.

How long it takes: Clinical rotations are typically integrated throughout the three-year DPT program, with students spending several weeks or months at each clinical site.

Licensure and certification

Upon completing a DPT program, graduates must obtain licensure to practice as physical therapists. Licensure requirements vary by state but generally include passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). 

Additionally, some physical therapists may choose to pursue specialized certifications in areas such as orthopedics, neurology, sports, or pediatrics, which require additional coursework and examinations.

How long it takes: The process of obtaining licensure and optional certifications can take several months to complete.

Ready to begin your journey as a PT?

In summary, the journey to becoming a physical therapist typically takes around seven to eight years, including undergraduate studies, a three-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, clinical rotations, and licensure/certification requirements. 

However, this timeline can vary based on individual circumstances, such as academic choices, prior experience, and professional goals. Regardless of the duration, the commitment and dedication required to become a physical therapist are essential for providing quality care and making a positive impact on patients' lives.

Want to learn about other in-demand healthcare professions? Explore more professions with shifts offered through the CareRev App.

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