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How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become a Physical Therapist?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Physical therapists are members of the health care community who diagnose and treat patients who suffer from medical conditions that result in a limited range of movement. All states require physical therapists to be licensed prior to practicing in the state. Requirements vary from state to state but typically include graduation from a post-graduate program in physical therapy and passing the National Physical Therapy Examination.

Career Description

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Physical therapists, sometimes referred to as PTs, work with patients with medical conditions, injuries or illnesses such as sprained muscles, fractured bones, arthritis, stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and sports injuries which restrict their ability to move. These health care professionals may treat patients of all ages. PTs typically work with a team of health care professionals that includes doctors, nurses, surgeons and pharmacists to develop a treatment plan designed to improve mobility, reduce pain and restore the patient's ability to perform routine or complex tasks.


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Physical therapy degree programs are offered at the graduate level and can result in either a master's degree or a doctorate. Acceptance into an accredited graduate program usually requires completion of a four-year undergraduate degree that involves studies and laboratory work in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physics, physiology, statistics, psychology, English and the humanities. Graduate level work involves basic medical science coursework with an emphasis on physical therapy. Graduate students will also participate in hands on clinical training.


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Most physical therapist master's degree programs last between two and three years while doctorate programs typically require three years of study, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most individuals entering the physical therapy career field elect to pursue a doctorate. Available degrees in physical therapy include the Master of Physical Therapy (MPT), the Master of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT), the Master of Science (MS) and the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT).


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Job opportunities for physical therapists are expected to grow by approximately 30 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the BLS. Jobs should be available across the board in traditional medical facilities such as hospitals, nursing care facilities, doctors' offices and orthopedic facilities, with even greater opportunities in rural communities. Income levels for physical therapists ranged from less than $52,170 to more than $105,900 with a median wage of $74,480 as of May 2009, according to the BLS.