What is a Master’s in Physical Therapy?

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Physical therapy is the practice of teaching patients how to reduce pain, and improve or restore lost mobility due injury, accident, or underlying health conditions. While a Master's in Physical Therapy is currently the minimum educational requirement to practice physical therapy in the U.S., the profession as a whole has begun transitioning this requirement to be more educationally demanding nationwide.

Master's to Doctoral Transition

While there are still Master's of Physical Therapy programs in existence, 199 of the 212 Physical Therapy programs accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association have transitioned from Master's of Physical Therapy to Doctorate of Physical Therapy programs. The remaining 13 programs have plans to make this transition by 2020. Graduates of Master's in Physical Therapy programs may still sit for the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and apply for state licensure in jurisdictions that allow professionals with a master's degree to practice physical therapy. Once all accredited physical therapy programs transition to a doctorate level, it is expected that all states will adhere to a Doctorate in Physical Therapy as the minimum amount of education required for a person to become licensed to practice in this field. There may be exceptions made for current practitioners at the master's level, but this will vary from state to state.

Choosing a Graduate Program

There are many choices that you must consider when choosing a graduate degree in physical therapy. While current laws governing the profession plan to allow those with a master's degree to continue to practice, there may come a point where additional training or certification will be required in order to maintain your license. Furthermore, as graduates of doctoral programs begin to occupy the market, those with master's degrees in physical therapy may struggle to find new employment, even at the entry level. As the market continues to employ more and more Doctorate of Physical Therapy candidates, those with master's degrees may also find themselves being offered lower salaries and having a harder time moving into administrative positions when compared to colleagues with doctoral training.

Considerations for Current Master's Graduates

If you currently have a Master's in Physical Therapy and are gainfully employed, you may not need to pursue any further education. However, if you want to stay ahead of the curve, or are thinking about moving to a state that requires a minimum of a Doctorate in Physical Therapy to practice, you may be able to complete a bridge program as opposed to starting over from scratch. Bridge programs take into consideration the training and experience that you have from your previous degree and use that to enable you to earn a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. While the specifics of each bridge program will vary from school to school, in general, they will take between one to two years to complete and may have a selective admission process similar to traditional DPT programs.

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If you are currently considering a graduate program in physical therapy, it may be a wise decision to pursue a Doctorate versus Master's in Physical Therapy to avoid any pitfalls or shortcomings associated with the upcoming professional transition within the field.