Mary Romanello

Monday, 27 June 2005 20:00

Physical therapy

As the United States has grown more diverse and individuals have sought a greater quality of life, the physical therapy profession has changed to meet society's accompanying demands. Physical therapy has evolved by:

  • Servicing diverse populations as more people gain access to health care
  • Providing expanded services to people throughout their lifespan
  • Considering the lengthened life expectancy afforded by advanced technology
  • Advancing physical therapist education to include the necessary knowledge and skills required for practicing therapists to meet the needs of the population

As a result, the physical therapy practice has required graduates to possess an ever-increasing depth and breadth of knowledge -- the ability to analyze the environment, problem-solve on multiple fronts, think critically and collaborate with multiple groups.

In many states, people can directly access physical therapists for prevention programs, wellness services and rehabilitation. These therapists work with clients through education and exercise programs to promote independence, establish goals to relieve pain and increase strength, as well as improve fitness and achieve the highest-possible level of function.

Recognizing the educational requirements needed to prepare physical therapists capable of meeting these societal demands, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) adopted a vision statement which says that by the year 2020, physical therapy will be provided by doctors of physical therapy. Consistent with the APTA vision statement, over the last five years, physical therapist education programs have modified their curricula to offer a doctor of physical therapy degree.

These entry-level physical therapy doctoral programs have common elements.

  • Expanded curricula to include a greater depth and breadth of knowledge and skills
  • Specific training in diversity issues, preparing graduates to work with people from all backgrounds
  • A collaborative approach to treatment, focused on working with other health care providers to treat the client holistically in the context of his or her environment

This knowledge and these skills enhance the existing rigorous program of study that includes foundational sciences, evaluation, assessment and functional activity skills. The doctor of physical therapy imparts an entry-level clinical degree designed to prepare graduates for physical therapy practice as a member of a health care team in an ever-changing health care market.

Individuals interested in enrolling in a doctor of physical therapy program must have completed an undergraduate degree and prerequisite courses in biology, psychology, chemistry, physics, statistics, English and other courses in the humanities.

Additionally, doctor of physical therapy programs seek individuals with a strong liberal arts preparation, a desire to work with others, a variety of experiences, a mature demeanor and the ability to think on multiple levels simultaneously in order to integrate layers of information and place them in an appropriate context.

If you're thinking about this field, consider the following steps.

Contact physical therapists to observe their work. Seek therapists who work in different setting to learn about working with various types of patients.

  • Find an accredited program. Visit the APTA Web site for a list of accredited physical therapist education programs ( Licensed physical therapists must graduate from an accredited physical therapist education program, pass the national licensure examination and successfully complete the respective state licensure requirements.
  • Learn about the program completion requirements. Physical therapy education includes classroom, laboratory and clinical experiences. Some programs require students to travel for their clinical internships to provide exposure to diverse people and diagnoses. Evaluate whether your life demands can mesh with the program expectations.
  • Ask about the program's graduation and licensure pass rates.


Mary L. Romanello, PT, Ph.D., ATC, SCS, is the physical therapy program director at the College of Mount St. Joseph, which will begin a doctor of physical therapy program in 2006. For more information, visit Reach Romanello at (513) 244-4975 or