How to Become a Physical Therapist?

Are you thinking of becoming a Physical Therapist or already started your career and planning the next step? Learn how to become a Physical Therapist, what skills you need to succeed, how to advance your career and get promoted, and what levels of pay to expect at each step on your career path. Explore new Physical Therapist job openings and options for career transitions into related roles.

Steps to Become a Physical Therapist

If you're interested in helping people heal and reduce pain through exercise and other techniques, consider becoming a physical therapist. To become a physical therapist, follow these steps:

Get a three-year doctorate of physical therapy.

Physical therapists usually need a bachelor's degree and a three-year doctorate of physical therapy or DPT. Some schools accept physical therapy students after three years of undergraduate education. You can choose any major, but you'll need to take prerequisite courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy, kinesiology, math, statistics, and psychology. Because of these requirements, most people choose a science-related major.

Many graduate schools also require a good GPA, good scores on the Graduate Record Exam or GRE, and some physical therapy experience through volunteer work or an internship. Some schools offer online courses and flexible schedules for people who are working while going to graduate school.

What type of degree should you pursue to become a Physical Therapist?

84% of people working as a Physical Therapist earned a Bachelor's Degree

What skills do you need to be a Physical Therapist?

  • CPR
  • Excellent Communication
  • Computer Literacy
  • Written Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • English Language
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
  • External Defibrillator
Based on resume data from Glassdoor users who reported working as a Physical Therapist in the United States.

Gain clinical experience.

Most physical therapy programs include clinical education as well as classwork and lab study. Physical therapy students usually spend 27 weeks gaining practical experience. Many also participate in a residency or fellowship. A residency can help you prepare for a physical therapy specialty like cardiovascular and pulmonary health, neurology, orthopedics, or women's health. A fellowship can help to expand your knowledge even more, and many physical therapists become fellows after they complete their residencies. This lets them continue learning from more experienced physical therapists.


Pass the National Physical Therapy Examination.

To become a licensed physical therapist, you'll need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination or NPTE. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy or FSBPT administers this test. It contains five sections with a total of 250 multiple-choice questions. Possible scores range from 200 to 800, and a 600 or above is considered passing. You can take the NPTE in January, April, July, or October, and you can sit for the test up to three times per year.

Some states also require a criminal background check and an exam about local laws and medical ethics to become a physical therapist. Physical therapists also need regular continuing education. While it's not required, many physical therapists get certification in a specialty from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. They usually pass an additional exam and complete a residency program with at least 2,000 hours of clinical work.


Improve your observational skills.

Physical therapist jobs are detail-oriented, and you'll need keen observational skills to diagnose and treat patients. Physical therapists need to be physically fit so that they can demonstrate exercises and help patients complete them. They should also be good listeners who can motivate patients. Some physical therapists follow a schedule set by a secretary or receptionist, and others set their own appointments. Whether you have help or not, time management and the ability to work independently are essential.

Physical Therapist Career Path

Physical Therapist

8+Years of Experience
$77K - $107K /yrMost Likely Range
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15% advanced to

Senior Physical Therapist

2 - 4Years of Experience
$91K - $133K /yrMost Likely Range
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Adjunct Physical Therapist

No Years of Experience Reports
$77K - $106K /yrMost Likely Range
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Total Pay Trajectory

Physical Therapist Career Path

Physical Therapist I
Physical Therapist
Senior Physical Therapist
Adjunct Physical Therapist
Physical Therapist V
Head Physical Therapist
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Related Careers in the Healthcare Industry

Interested in other Healthcare careers? Below are occupations that have high affinity with Physical Therapist skills. Discover some of the most common Physical Therapist career transitions, along with skills overlap.

Physical Therapy Aide
29% skills overlap
4% transitioned to Physical Therapy Aide