How hard is physical therapy school?

8 commonly asked questions–and answers–when considering a D.P.T. degree

How rigorous training can prepare you for a rewarding physical therapy career

Physical therapy is one of the fastest growing careers in all of health care. In fact, nearly 50,000 new physical therapist jobs will be created over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The anticipated increase in ill, injured and elderly patients, plus medical advancements that lead to longer lives, mean physical therapists will be even more important in the future. 

Physical therapists are movement and anatomy experts. These experts are needed to help improve quality of life through exercise, patient care and education. Becoming a physical therapist starts with pursuing a doctor of physical therapy — or D.P.T. degree.  

If you’re wondering to yourself, “how hard is physical therapy school?”, you’re not alone. Before you psych yourself out, let’s talk about the basics of a D.P.T. program. 

  1. What is a D.P.T.?
  2. Do I need a D.P.T. degree to pursue a physical therapy career?
  3. How long is physical therapy school?
  4. What does a Doctor of Physical Therapy do?
  5. What is the job outlook for physical therapy degree recipients?
  6. What industries have opportunities for careers in physical therapy?
  7. How much does a Doctor of Physical Therapy make?
  8. How much does physical therapy school cost?

1. What is a D.P.T.?

D.P.T. stands for Doctor of Physical Therapy. It can refer to the person who holds a doctorate in physical therapy or it can mean the degree itself. A D.P.T. degree is designed for you to gain the skills and expertise to become a movement specialist, which will help you diagnose and treat individuals of all ages.

2. Do I Need a D.P.T. Degree to Pursue a Physical Therapy Career?

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) requires a D.P.T. to pursue a physical therapy career in a health care setting. Even if you’re not considering a health care career, a doctorate in physical therapy may be helpful for your career goals. 

3. How Long Is Physical Therapy School?

To become a licensed physical therapist, you must: 

  • Complete have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university within the United States 
  • Graduate from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)-accredited D.P.T. program 
  • Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to become a board-certified and licensed physical therapist 

The Doctor of Physical Therapy program at DMU consists of 34 months of coursework and clinical experience. A hallmark of the DMU D.P.T. program is that in addition to classroom time, you’ll get into the clinic early in the program, so you can develop competencies and communication skills. Four clinical internships totaling 36 weeks, scheduled at approximately 370 sites across the country, are spaced throughout the curriculum, which allows you to apply, practice and perfect what you’re learning.

4. What Does a Doctor of Physical Therapy Do?

As a physical therapist, you will enhance and improve the quality of life for your patients. Because of the variety of jobs and demand in the field, you will find room for advancement as you gain experience in your physical therapy career.  

Here are just a few job titles that you might hold as a graduate from a doctor of physical therapy program: 

  • Acute care physical therapist 
  • Geriatric physical therapist 
  • Medical writer 
  • Occupational physical therapist 
  • Pediatric physical therapist 
  • Postsecondary teacher

5. What Is the Job Outlook for Physical Therapy Degree Recipients?

D.P.T.s have a tremendous job outlook, with an expected 18% growth in the field, above average compared to most other industries and professions.  

That said, when thinking about a career in physical therapy, consider more than just the jobs and career growth. You will want to: 

  • Choose a program that will help you achieve your personal and professional goals 
  • Decide upon a setting that best suits your career interests. You may want to join a hospital, research institution, sports team, or school. You might want to specialize in working with older adults, athletes or individuals recovering from injuries and ailments. 
  • Find a D.P.T. program that allows you flexibility in your studies and your clinical rotations. 

If you want to help others live happy and healthier lives, a career in physical therapy may be right for you.

6. What Industries Have Opportunities for Careers in Physical Therapy?

While a D.P.T. is required by the APTA to practice physical therapy in the United States, you can still pursue a variety of careers with a D.P.T. degree. Here are a few examples. 

  • Health Care and Rehabilitation — Most D.P.T. graduates work in health care and rehabilitation settings as a physical therapist. You could work in hospitals, fitness centers, clinics, or in-home settings. Physical therapists may also specialize in working with a particular age group to practice, for example, in a nursing home or with school sports teams.  
  • Education — Becoming an educator is one of the most popular non-clinical paths to a career in physical therapy. While you may consider teaching at a PT school, you could also lead in-person and online classes in anatomy and biomechanics. This is a great opportunity to help shape the next generation of clinicians.  
  • Insurance Companies — D.P.T.s work for insurance companies by reviewing cases and approving, denying, or managing insurance claims. These jobs can be great if you’re looking for a flexible career working in the office, remotely or from home.  
  • Technology — Many physical therapists are hired in clinical training, marketing, consulting, and other exciting careers in technology. With experience helping patients who have mobility issues, physical therapists can work with engineers and tech experts to develop cutting-edge solutions, such as medical devices, to streamline health care delivery.  
  • Sales — You may choose to work in sales and represent a medical product. If you work as a sales rep, you will visit various health care settings and demonstrate and train other D.P.T.s in how products work.

7. How Much Does a Doctor of Physical Therapy Make?

Physical therapy salaries can fluctuate depending on your career aspirations and location. The average annual salary for physical therapists is $84,422, according to  

Here are five examples, according to, of salaries in physical therapy: 

  • Acute care physical therapist — $100,967 
  • Occupational physical therapist — $90,678 
  • Global sales representative — $87,100 
  • Utilization review nurse — $77,500 
  • Pediatric physical therapist — $76,365 
  • Medical writer — $65,821

8. How Much Does Physical Therapy School Cost?

While some D.P.T. degrees can run as much as $40,000 per academic year, at DMU our tuition is about $33,000 per academic year. You should also consider housing costs and living expenses during the time you will be in school, that could add another $10,000 to $20,000 a year to your overall cost of earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy. 

At Des Moines University D.P.T. students pay one rate for tuition, whether they are from in-state or out-of-state, which may help you pursue a physical therapy degree at a potentially lower cost than many other physical therapy programs.

At DMU, Prepare to Lead in a Fast-Paced, Rewarding Physical Therapy Career

Gain the clinical and educational expertise you need to pursue a physical therapy career. Des Moines University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program provides you with:

Des Moines University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program provides you with:

  • Hands-on clinical experiences through our DMU Physical Therapy Clinic on campus and over 400 partner clinical sites around the country. 
  • State-of-the-art facilities such as our Human Performance Lab and anatomy lab. D.P.T. students have access to cutting-edge technology and tools, including advanced movement analysis equipment and lifelike, high-fidelity mannequins. 
  • Opportunities to learn from faculty who are experts and leaders in movement science, neuroscience, pain science, orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics and other therapies. 
  • Preparation for your boards. The two-year average for our D.P.T. program graduates includes a first time pass rate of 94% and an overall pass rate of 98%.

Discover what you can do with a physical therapy doctorate from DMU and get started on your path to helping everyone live and move better.

Get in touch with our Admissions team to get started:

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