How hard is physical therapy school?

8 commonly asked questions—and answers— when considering a DPT 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. Health care will need these experts to help improve quality of life through exercise, patient care and education. How to become a physical therapist starts with pursuing a doctor of physical therapy—or DPT degree.

If you’re worrying about “how hard is physical therapy school?”, you’re not alone. But before you psych yourself out, let’s talk about the basics of a DPT program.

  1. What is a DPT?
  2. Do I need a DPT 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?

What is a DPT?

DPT 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 DPT degree is designed to prepare you to become a scholar and leader in the field. You will gain the skills and expertise to become a movement specialist, which will help you diagnose and treat individuals of all ages. Understanding what is a DPT degree can help you decide if this is the right grad school and career path for you.

Do I Need a DPT Degree to Pursue a Physical Therapy Career?

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

How Long Is Physical Therapy School?

To become a licensed physical therapist, you must:

  • Complete an accredited undergraduate degree in the United States
  • Graduate from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)-accredited DPT program
  • Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to become a board-certified and licensed physical therapist

When considering “How long is physical therapy school?”, think about course workload and the number of credits you’ll take each semester, program options and other obligations you may be balancing while in PT school. Most DPT programs consist of three years of coursework and clinical experience.

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

What Is the Job Outlook for Physical Therapy Degree Recipients?

DPTs have a tremendous job outlook, with an expected 18% growth in the field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s above average compared to most other industries and professions.

That said, when thinking about “what does a doctor of physical therapy do?”, consider more than just the jobs and career growth. You will want to:

  • Discover 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 DPT program that allows you flexibility in your studies and your clinical rotations.

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

What Industries Have Opportunities for Careers in Physical Therapy?

While a DPT is required by the APTA to practice physical therapy in the United States, you may be surprised to learn that you can pursue a variety of careers with a DPT. Here are a few examples.

  • Health Care and Rehabilitation—Most DPT 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—DPTs 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 DPTs in how products work. A career in sales has the potential to be on the higher end of how much does a doctor of physical therapy make.

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

How Much Does Physical Therapy School Cost?

DPT degrees can run as much as $40,000 per academic year, according to CAPTE. If you also consider housing costs and living expenses, you 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, the cost of physical therapy school is relatively simple. DMU DPT 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, and discover what you can do with a physical therapy doctorate from DMU. Get started on your path to helping everyone live and move better.

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. DPT 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. Our DPT program graduates have a pass rate over the last three years of 99.3%.
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