How to become a physical therapist

Physical therapists have a challenging job but one that's potentially deeply rewarding — they have an ability to make an incredibly positive difference in the lives of their patients. PTs, as they're sometimes called, help people who are injured or in chronic pain manage their recoveries and improve their mobility. That might involve something as simple as helping an arthritis patient perform stretches, or as complex as helping a paraplegic patient learn to walk again after a car accident.

> Read more about online physical therapy schools

Steps to take

Because being a physical therapist requires such extensive knowledge of the human body, the job also requires a great deal of education and training. Anyone aspiring to a career in physical therapy must start by following these steps:

  1. Get a bachelor's degree in physical therapy* — ideally in a relevant field, such as kinesiology
  2. Pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree
  3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
  4. Get licensed by any state where you wish to practice

It's also crucial to renew your license as often as necessary. Those looking to advance their careers can also consider a board certification in a clinical specialty such as geriatrics or sports.

Largely due to the aging population in the U.S., career opportunities for physical therapists are expected to be particularly strong in the coming years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. The BLS predicts job growth of 36 percent nationally through 2022, which is a marked improvement from earlier projections through 2018, for instance. Certain states are expected to have even higher growth than that, with Utah, Alabama and Idaho all expecting more than 40 percent growth through 2020, according to state labor department data.

Where physical therapists work

Although many physical therapists work in hospitals, those are far from the only employment option. According to the BLS, other common possibilities include:

  • Health practitioners' offices, excluding general physicians (this might include chiropractors or private practice, among other options)
  • Home health care services
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Doctors' offices

If this growing and sustainable career interests you, check out the visual below for more details on how to become a physical therapist. A complete list of sources is included at the end.


Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Physical Therapists, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Physical Therapists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook: 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014,

Long-Term Occupational Projections: Physical Therapists, Projections Central,

How to become a physical therapist
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