How Much School Do You Have To Go Through To Become A Physical Therapist?

I have worked as a PT for 3 years now, all at OSI Physical Therapy. Throughout my time working with clients there are a few common questions that have stuck out to me. One of the main professional questions I hear is “how much school do you have to go through to become a physical therapist?” The answer always surprises people. So what sort of training do physical therapists actually have?

The profession of physical therapy, just like many other professions, has changed its requirements throughout the years. It started as a bachelor’s program many years ago, eventually transitioned to a Master’s, and now is finally a Doctorate degree.

Transitioning to a doctorate degree makes the average length of time someone spends in school before they can start practicing 7 years. The first 4 years of school are spent attaining a bachelor’s degree. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree you are eligible to apply for physical therapy school. Once accepted, PT school averages 3 years in length: 2 years in classroom, 1 year completing internships in the clinic or hospital.

Classroom work is geared mostly towards science, clinical, and research based classes. Most of the science classes are related to the human body and different disease processes/general medical. Examples of science coursework includes: anatomy/physiology, biomechanics (physics for the human body), pharmacology, pathophysiology (i.e. different common disease processes), neuroanatomy, exercise physiology, etc.

The core part of PT programs curriculum is based around how to examine and evaluate movement, posture, and positioning as a whole from a range of different medical conditions including: neurological (i.e. spinal cord injuries), cardiopulmonary (i.e. breathing and heart disease processes), pediatrics, and of course musculoskeletal. Intervention classes are also extremely important and include: manual therapy (i.e. hands on treatment), strengthening, stretching, and modalities (i.e. hot pack, cold pack, traction, etc.)

So why does all of this training matter to the clients? It is because of the 7 years of focused training that more insurance companies will now allow people to seek out physical therapy through “direct access.” This means that you do not need to have a doctor’s referral before coming to PT. Direct access helps to streamline the process, saving client’s time and money. More importantly, PT has proven to be more effective when initiated in the acute phases of injury (first 7-14 days).

At OSI Physical Therapy, our focus is primarily on clients with musculoskeletal injuries and pain patterns. The coursework studied in PT school helps to drive the foundation to becoming a “movement specialist”.   When seeking out help from a PT, you can expect them to utilize their extensive background knowledge in movement science to assess how you move as an individual. Based upon this assessment a specific rehabilitation program will be designed between you and the physical therapist to meet your individual goals. A huge component of rehabilitation is education to allow you, the client, to become independent and confident in managing your own condition. All of these pieces of PT are geared toward building a specific self management program to be carried out individually once all goals have been met.

I hope this helps you have a better understanding of the training physical therapists have, and how this background is used with clients to quickly achieve their goals.

– Tricia