Why Choose a Doctor of Physical Therapy DPT Degree + Online Option

In this article, we will describe the role of the doctor of physical therapy (DPT), what is the subject matter covered in the degree, and why you may want to consider earning this degree. We will also highlight an example of a high quality doctor of physical therapy program that is available online.

What Is a Doctor of Physical Therapy?

The DPT degree takes three years to complete post-baccalaureate. Graduates are classified as clinical doctors with specialization in a range of rehabilitation areas. Those who hold a bachelor or master of physical therapy, can complete a transitional DPT degree as well.

In 2015, any developing or accredited physical therapist program must be a DPT program. The degree prepares students for the physical therapy (PT) licensure examination, which is a requirement in all 50 states. At the time of this writing, some 222 accredited DPT programs exist in this country.

DPT graduates can continue their education by completing a residency, after which, they may obtain a fellowship. At the end of December 2013, there were 178 physical therapy residencies with credentials in this country, as well as 34 fellowship options. Additionally, 63 residencies and fellowships were under development. Completion of a credentialed residency usually takes between nine and 36 months. A credentialed fellowship, meanwhile takes between six and 36 months.

“Vision 2020,,” which was the vision statement published by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) in 2000, states:

“By 2020, physical therapy will be provided by physical therapists who are doctors of physical therapy, recognized by consumers and other health care professionals as the practitioners of choice to whom consumers have direct access for the diagnosis of, interventions for, and prevention of impairments, functional limitations, and disabilities related to movement, function, and health.”

DPT programs are now focused on how Vision 2020 can be met, which essentially means that consumers will have the right to choose a PT directly, rather than waiting for a referral from a physician. This is something that APTA advocates, citing research which demonstrates that providing direct access significantly decreases waiting lists and reduces healthcare costs both overall and for individuals. Direct access to PTs is now allowed to some degree by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Because of Vision 2020, access to DPT degrees has become highly competitive. In 2011, students who enrolled in these programs had an average GPA of 3.5. The lowest was 3.1 and the highest was 3.9. In addition, each program saw 354.7 applicants on average, and each class would enrol an average of just 43.3. The average matriculation rate was just 12.2%. There are numerous reasons for this high degree of competitiveness, one of which is that admission requirements are quite easy to meet, with students only requiring a bachelor’s degree in any subject that meets prerequisite courses.

A sample of the courses you are likely to take as part of the DPT degree include:

  • Functional Anatomy
  • Neuromuscular Physical Therapy
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy
  • Complex Conditions
  • Administration and Management
  • Interdisciplinary Team
  • Applied Physical Therapy
  • Screening and Imaging
  • Life Span Development
  • Health Behavior and Social Responsibilities
  • Pharmacotherapeutics
  • Theory and Practice

Why Earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy?

The main reason for earning a DPT degree is because of Vision 2020. Essentially, this vision requires that all PTs must be educated to the doctorate degree level. APTA believes that this is an essential requirement to deliver high quality care, since physical therapy is becoming an increasingly complex field of work, mainly because the American population is aging.

Simply put, the amount of information that PTs have to be aware of in order to be effective is now so broad and complex, that a doctorate degree is required. Additionally, PTs are expected to have a significant level of training in business management, not in the least because the vast majority of graduates now enter private practices.

Another key issue is that the current population has increasingly complex needs due to disabilities and chronic diseases. Furthermore, the population has very high expectations in terms of their own quality of life.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for all physical therapists is $85,400 per year. Job growth for the period 2014 to 2024 is estimated to be 34%, which is much higher than the national average. Those who have the most experience and the highest degree of education are most likely to find themselves in the top 10% of earners, who enjoy a salary of $122,130 per year or more.

Online Option for Doctor of Physical Therapy

A.T. Still University (ATSU)

A.T. Still University offers an online post-professional DPT program, which is a transitional DPT (tDPT). It is a custom program that is designed around the individual needs of practicing professionals. It is therefore a flexible option and students are supported by staff and faculty. The degree is offered at the School of Health Sciences, offering student-centric and personalized curriculum plans. These plans are developed after matriculated students have been individually assessed and their personal experience and needs have been identified. Students can attend classes as and when it is convenient for them, or they may choose to undertake an accelerated version instead.

Uniquely, it is easy to start on the tDPT program, because new classes begin every six weeks. Again, this ensures flexibility for students. The core curriculum is based on the preferred education model of the APTA, which guarantees its quality.

The tDPT program is designed for those who wish to continue to practice as PTs but have to maintain their relevancy and will ensure that they are compliant with Vision 2020.

The degree is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Courses in the DPT degree include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Radiology and Imaging
  • Differential Diagnosis and Screening for Medical Conditions
  • Musculoskeletal Physical Therapy
  • Neuromuscular Physical Therapy
  • Integumentary Physical Therapy
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Physical Therapy
  • Extremity Manual Therapy
  • Professional Practice
  • Pediatric Physical Therapy
  • Spine Manual Therapy
  • Gender Healthcare in Physical Therapy

Some of the roles available for DPT graduates are:

  • Physical therapist
  • Clinical director of physical therapy
  • Staff physical therapist
  • Pediatric physical therapist
  • Senior physical therapist
  • Licensed physical therapist (LPT)


By earning a DPT degree, you will be able to advance your career in physical therapy, while at the same time meeting Vision 2020. The degree will provide you with the skills and knowledge required to be a leader in your field, while meeting the healthcare needs of the population as well.