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How to Prepare for a Career in Physical Therapy

Here we've put together five basic steps to help you as you start down the path to becoming a physical therapist. This article is a summary of the more detailed information available in the article How To Become A Physical Therapist.

1. Students interested in becoming physical therapists can prepare while in high school. Courses like physical education, biology, physics, physical education, mathematics, psychology, and communications give students a solid educational basis for future degree programs. Additionally, students who work within health care facilities, nursing homes, or through mentoring programs in private physical therapist's offices, may increase chances of acceptance within a college program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education.

2. Successfully completing an associates degree program or higher in physical therapy is the next step in becoming a physical therapist. Students in associates degree programs study courses like: English, social science, mathematics, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and lifesaving courses like CPR and first aid. Bachelor degree programs allow students to expand into more specialized courses like: information technology, biology, physical therapy administration, ethics, neuroscience, pathological physiology, analysis of dysfunction, movement dynamics, human growth and development, management of musculoskeletal disorders, clinical evaluation and management, physical therapy modalities, rehabilitation psychology, and physical therapy administration.

3. Graduates from bachelor degree programs can then advance to master degree programs in physical therapy. Students participate in intensive course studies, internship and licensing programs. Students can specialize physical therapy training in musculoskeletal manual therapy, neurological therapy, or other aspects of physical therapy. Courses like physiology, electrotherapy, kinesiology, biomechanics, medical imaging, patient care techniques, and professional ethics combined with an internship under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist qualifies students, upon graduation, for the certification or licensing process.

4. A doctoral degree in physical therapy allows individuals to become experts in the field. Students just entering the field of physical therapy may pursue any of the three doctoral degree programs: professional, transitional, or advanced clinical physical therapy. Courses in therapeutic procedures and techniques, neuroanatomy, human and clinical anatomy, palpation, physical therapist interventions, neuroscience, pathology, movement science, diagnostic imaging, musculoskeletal practice management, primary care practice, and health promotion and injury prevention. Upon completion of a publishable dissertation and period clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist, students may fulfill licencing procedures.

5. Graduates of physical therapy programs must fulfill licensing or certification requirements as determined by state and/or facility regulations. The American Physical Therapy Association administers a National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) to graduates who meet educational and internship requirements. The NPTE exam assesses students' entry level competency in addition to other examinations as determined by jurisdiction.

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