Is a DPT a doctor?

Learn more about what a Doctorate in PT means.

There are all kinds of doctors. The differences between a doctor of physical therapy and a medical doctor are substantial. It’s important to understand the difference before beginning your PT career – or even scheduling an appointment with a doctor’s office.

I want to practice physical therapy. Is a DPT a “real” doctor?

When you hear the word “doctor,” what do you imagine? While some doctors are “Doctors of Medicine” (MDs), many are not. Some physicians with other types of degrees – such as as Doctor of Physical Therapy – are in fact, better qualified to treat certain conditions than an MD.

What is a DPT?

After earning their bachelor’s or master’s in physical therapy, an aspiring physical therapist can earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy. For a PT that is already practicing, and wants to return to the classroom to advance their knowledge, they will complete a post-professional DPT, which has different requirements.

Learn more about the differences between a PT and a DPT.

Is a DPT a doctor?

Yes. a DPT can still be referred to as “doctor.” But unlike MDs, a DPT cannot write prescriptions for medication or perform surgical procedures. Their focus is on movement and exercise programs for patients, often in a post-surgical or rehabilitation setting. However, DPT students study pharmacology, and have a strong understanding of how medication affects the human body. They will often confer with other healthcare professionals, including MDs, about treatment plans.

What is the training and education required for a DPT?

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, a licensed PT must complete a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from an accredited program and pass the state licensing exam.

It generally takes two to three years to earn a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT). In general, the length of a program depends on the graduation requirements of the institution, and the way the coursework is delivered. Also, astudent’s enrollment status as a full-time or part-time student impacts the length of the program. Approximately 80% of a DPT student’s time will be spent in the classroom and in the lab, while 20% will be spent in clinical settings.

Post-Professional DPT

A licensed, practicing PT does not have to begin all over again to earn their DPT. A post-professional degree or advanced clinical doctorate degree is usually earned by someone who is already working in their field – a professional. The post-professional degree allows a licensed PT to fill in the gaps between their master’s education and the next level – a DPT – through advanced skills acquired in clinical specialization, residencies, fellowships, and other special studies.

What’s the difference between a DPT and a PhD?

Did you know you can earn a PhD in Physical Therapy? To become a qualified DPT or MD, one must have a higher degree that qualifies them to work with patients and earn a license. They commonly practice in clinical settings, working directly with patients.

This differs from a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), which focuses on scientific research, education, and producing original scholarly work. Both of these degrees entail mastering knowledge in a particular field of study – in this case, physical therapy.. The DPT degree is conferred by a professional PT program and is recognized as a clinical doctorate (i.e., like MD, DDS, EdD, PsyD, OD, DPM) – as evidence of the practitioner’s desire to integrate new knowledge and make clinical application of it.

If I earn my DPT, will I get a better job?

You might. Earning a DPT degree will open up many more job options to you, including positions like: physical therapy director, clinical coordinator, occupational therapy director, or rehabilitation director. You may also have the option to work in professional sports settings or with disabled athletes. The median salary is higher for specialty careers that are available after obtaining a DPT.

Some additional opportunities include:

  • Administrative: Becoming an administrator in a physical therapy setting such as for an outpatient clinic or hospital or taking on administrative roles in the field such as becoming head of rehabilitation services or taking on other leadership positions.
  • Acute care physical therapist: During recovery from a major injury or surgery, patients need a specialist by their side. Physicians and therapists in acute care help people in severe conditions regain movement and prepare for hospital discharge or transfer.
  • Geriatric physical therapist: Geriatric PT specialists provide services for elderly patients who wish to improve mobility and increase independence.
  • Pediatric physical therapist: Besides helping children with injuries and mobility disorders, pediatric physical therapy also has great benefits for children with developmental disabilities.
  • Sports physical therapist: From fitness centers to outpatient rehabilitation centers and even on-field scenarios, sports physical therapists help athletes return to movement after an injury. The PT or DPT might also recommend exercises to reduce the chance of injury in the future.

What’s the curriculum for a DPT program?

Physical therapists, who are not medical doctors, receive the doctorate degree in physical therapy (DPT) from accredited universities. They have their own professional organization which sets standards for competency and ethical practice. While each university is different, common DPT programs require studies in:

  • Biochemistry
  • Physics
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Neurobiology
  • Behavior and psychology
  • Medical ethics
  • Kinesiology
  • Endocrine and metabolic sciences
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary medicine

You may also study professionalism and professional issues, plus courses in health promotion and wellness. And finally, an applied case-based analysis or capstone project.

Apply to be a Physical Therapist at Brooks Rehabilitation

Have you earned your PT or your DPT? Come join the team at Brooks Rehabilitation.

With more than 50 years of expertise, we deliver exceptional medical rehabilitation services to our patients. From stroke victims to multiple sclerosis patients, we’ve helped so many people improve their quality of life through state-of-the-art physical therapy programs. Apply here to start the process.

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It’s time to do the best work of your life.

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