What is a DPT?

Learn about the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

To become a practicing physical therapist in the U.S., you must earn your Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. The required DPT coursework and exams can lead to a rewarding career in a variety of patient care settings.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree is a clinical doctoral program for professional, practicing physical therapists. It reflects the standards physical therapists must adhere to for the best possible treatment. This postgraduate degree can be earned after completing a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in physical therapy or a closely-related field.

To practice as a physical therapist in the United States, you must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from a PT education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. You must also pass a state licensure exam for your location(s) of practice. Practicing PTs who entered the field before this requirement was instituted in 2020 can return to school to complete a DPT.

Today, a DPT degree is the standard for physical therapists to prepare them to become more well-rounded healthcare professionals. However, the program encompasses much more than growing and developing in physical therapy practices alone. The requirements and range of skills of a DPT can be applied in many healthcare situations.

What are the required credentials of a DPT?

The DPT coursework is a three-year graduate program focused on clinical skills and applying critical research principles to everyday clinical practices. DPT students also participate in clinical experiences that begin earlier in the program.

The DPT curriculum expands upon the traditional physical therapy curriculum by incorporating clinical sciences to offer more relevant and meaningful decision-making skills and applications. However, some elements of the DPT coursework are organized around the physical therapy practice setting.

Coursework can include:

  • Small group work
  • Problem-based tutorials
  • Periods of self-directed learning
  • Clinical experiments
  • Lab work
  • Lectures

Some features of most DPT curricula include:

  • Case-based learning
  • Integrated curriculum combining basic and clinical coursework
  • Focus on evidence-based practice
  • Ethical leadership and cultural competence incorporated through service learning
  • Educational experiences that reflect on clinical practices, clinical experiences, continually integrating knowledge, and critical reflection
  • Team-taught courses by DPT faculty with skills and expertise in basic and clinical sciences
  • Studies in current research literature based on a learner-centered education model that actively involves students in the teaching/learning process
  • Clinical education that occurs at intervals throughout the curriculum term, which consists of short experiences focused on learning objectives and extended experiences in PT environments.
  • Foundational science topics like cardiopulmonary medicine, physical rehabilitation, neurology, and pharmacology.

What does a DPT do?

Medical experts now expect physical therapists to do much more than provide treatment to patients with mobility issues. Patients expect physical therapists to be fundamental healthcare providers who tackle their mobility issues and offer rehabilitative treatments for the best and quickest recovery.

Physical therapists should also be able to tackle prevention initiatives like decreasing accidental patient falls and athletic injuries. They are tasked with preventing future flexibility and movement issues that could result from chronic diseases and other debilitating health conditions.

Some common DPT specialties include:

  • Joint mobilization
  • Therapeutic modalities like electrical stimulation and ultrasound
  • Wheelchair modifications
  • Exercise prescription for improved pulmonary and cardiac function
  • Therapeutic exercise prescription
  • Functional mobility training

Where Do DPTs Work?

An expansive knowledge of human anatomy and treatment modalities allows physical therapists to work in different environments. The same applies to DPTs, who can help patients with flexibility and mobility issues in different environments.

Working with a Doctor of Physical Therapy can help patients get more advanced and targeted care and treatment.

Some common work environments for DPTs include:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Neurology-based rehabilitation clinics
  • Sports teams
  • Private clinics
  • Cardiac rehabilitation clinics
  • Residential schools
  • Outpatient PT clinics
  • K-12 schools
  • Spinal cord injury clinics

While most DPTs work in offices or clinical settings, some provide in-home PT services. DPTs work with patients of all ages and abilities to address any medical problems affecting normal functional movement.

What can patients expect from a DPT?

DPTs are movement and flexibility experts with a vast knowledge of human anatomy. They are trained to recognize flexibility or movement impairments and manage pain effectively for quick recovery.

A DPT can determine whether their patient’s condition is severe enough to recommend surgery or other treatments other than physical therapy. Unlike medical doctors (MDs), DPTs do not perform surgical procedures or write prescriptions for medication.

Working with a DPT as part of the cardiac rehabilitation program can support a quick recovery after a stroke, cardiac surgery, or a heart attack. A DPT will recommend and teach aerobic exercises to improve their patient’s respiratory and cardiac function.

Where can I apply for a DPT job?

Physical therapists at Brooks Rehabilitation provide PT services in a state-of-the-art, collaborative environment. Our holistic, research-based approach to individualized care makes Brooks Rehabilitation a premiere treatment center throughout the greater Jacksonville, Daytona, Orlando, St. Augustine, Palm Coast, and Tampa regions.

Visit our locations page to see which Brooks Rehabilitation office is best for you and apply for one of our open positions today!

Join our team.

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

See Physical Therapy Jobs