If you’ve ever wondered whether physical therapists go to medical school, you’re not alone. Many people assume that since physical therapists work in healthcare, they must attend medical school like doctors.

However, the training and education for physical therapists is quite different than that of physicians. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about the schooling and qualifications required to become a licensed physical therapist.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: No, physical therapists do not go to medical school. They obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which typically takes 3 years to complete after earning a bachelor’s degree.

Educational Requirements for Physical Therapists

Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who play a crucial role in helping patients regain mobility and manage pain. To become a physical therapist, individuals must meet certain educational requirements.

These requirements typically include obtaining a bachelor’s degree, earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, and obtaining a license to practice.

Bachelor’s Degree

Before pursuing a career in physical therapy, individuals must first complete a bachelor’s degree. While there is no specific major required, most aspiring physical therapists choose to major in a field related to health sciences, biology, or kinesiology.

It is important to note that a bachelor’s degree alone does not qualify an individual to practice as a physical therapist, but it is a necessary step in the educational journey.

Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree

After completing a bachelor’s degree, aspiring physical therapists must then earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. This typically involves attending a graduate program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).

The DPT program typically takes three years to complete and includes both classroom instruction and clinical rotations to gain hands-on experience in a variety of healthcare settings.

Earning a DPT degree provides physical therapists with the knowledge and skills necessary to assess, diagnose, and treat patients with physical limitations or disabilities. They learn techniques such as therapeutic exercises, manual therapy, and modalities like ultrasound or electrical stimulation to help patients improve their mobility and manage pain.


Once individuals have completed their DPT degree, they must obtain a license to practice as a physical therapist. Licensing requirements vary by state, but typically involve passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).

Some states may also have additional requirements such as jurisprudence exams or background checks.

It is important for physical therapists to maintain their license by completing continuing education courses to stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the field. This ensures that they continue to provide high-quality care to their patients and adhere to the professional standards set by their governing bodies.

For more information on the educational requirements for physical therapists, you can visit the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website at https://www.apta.org/.

Key Differences Between Physical Therapist and Medical School

Admissions Requirements

One of the key differences between becoming a physical therapist and going to medical school lies in the admissions requirements. While medical schools typically require a bachelor’s degree, completion of prerequisite courses, and a competitive Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score, the requirements for physical therapy programs may vary.

Physical therapy programs generally require a bachelor’s degree, completion of specific prerequisite courses, and a competitive score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). However, some programs may accept students with an associate degree or a certain number of college credits.

It’s important to check the specific requirements of each program you are interested in.

Curriculum Focus

The curriculum focus in medical school is centered around diagnosing and treating diseases, while physical therapy programs focus on rehabilitating patients through movement and exercise. Medical school students typically study a wide range of subjects, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the human body and its diseases.

On the other hand, physical therapy programs emphasize courses in kinesiology, therapeutic exercise, manual therapy techniques, and patient evaluation and management.

Program Length

The duration of medical school and physical therapy programs also differ. Medical school typically takes four years to complete, followed by a residency program that can range from three to seven years, depending on the chosen specialty.

In contrast, physical therapy programs usually take three years to complete for those with a bachelor’s degree, or six to seven years for students who pursue a combined undergraduate and doctoral degree program.

The length of the physical therapy program can vary depending on the specific program and the student’s prior education.

Tuition and Costs

The cost of attending medical school is generally higher than that of physical therapy programs. Medical school tuition can range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and this does not include additional expenses such as textbooks, housing, and living costs.

Physical therapy programs, while still requiring a significant financial investment, tend to have lower tuition costs. It’s important to consider the financial implications of each path and explore scholarship and financial aid options to help alleviate the burden of tuition and costs.

Physical Therapist vs. Physician Roles and Training

Diagnosing Patients

One of the key differences between physical therapists and physicians is their role in diagnosing patients. While physicians, such as medical doctors (MDs) and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs), are trained to diagnose and treat medical conditions, physical therapists do not have the authority to make medical diagnoses.

Instead, physical therapists rely on referrals from physicians or other healthcare providers to guide their treatment plans. They work closely with patients to assess their physical conditions, identify areas of concern, and develop appropriate treatment strategies.

Prescribing Medications

Another distinction between physical therapists and physicians is their ability to prescribe medications. Physicians, as licensed medical professionals, have the authority to prescribe medications to their patients.

On the other hand, physical therapists do not have the legal authority to prescribe medications in most countries. However, they can collaborate with physicians and other healthcare providers to ensure their patients receive the appropriate medications as part of their overall treatment plan.

Performing Surgery

When it comes to surgical procedures, physical therapists do not typically perform surgeries. Surgeons, who are specialized physicians, are trained to perform various surgical procedures to treat certain medical conditions or injuries.

Physical therapists, on the other hand, focus on non-invasive treatment methods such as exercise, manual therapy, and other modalities to help patients regain strength, mobility, and function after surgery or injury.

Practicing Independently

In terms of practicing independently, physicians have the ability to establish their own private practices, work in hospitals, or join medical groups. They have a wide range of options when it comes to their practice settings.

On the other hand, physical therapists often work as part of a healthcare team, collaborating with physicians, nurses, and other professionals to provide comprehensive care to their patients. While physical therapists can own their own practices, they typically work within the framework of a larger healthcare system.

Career Prospects for Physical Therapists

Job Outlook

The job outlook for physical therapists is extremely promising. With an aging population and an increased focus on preventive healthcare, the demand for physical therapists is expected to grow significantly.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 22 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

This growth is mainly driven by the increasing number of individuals who require physical therapy services to recover from injuries, manage chronic conditions, and improve their overall mobility. Physical therapists play a crucial role in helping patients regain strength, flexibility, and functionality through specialized exercises and treatments.

If you are considering a career as a physical therapist, rest assured that you will have excellent job prospects and opportunities for growth in the coming years.

Average Salary

Physical therapists are well-compensated for their expertise and dedication. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physical therapists was $89,440 in May 2019. The top 10 percent earned more than $124,740, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $61,230.

It’s important to note that the salary of a physical therapist can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and specialization. Physical therapists who work in outpatient care centers or hospitals tend to earn higher salaries compared to those working in schools or home healthcare settings.

Work Settings

Physical therapists have the flexibility to work in a variety of settings, depending on their interests and career goals. Some common work settings for physical therapists include:

  • Hospitals: Physical therapists in hospitals work with patients who require intensive rehabilitation after surgery, illness, or injury.
  • Outpatient Clinics: These clinics provide specialized physical therapy services to individuals with musculoskeletal issues, sports injuries, and chronic pain.
  • Schools: Physical therapists in schools work with children who have disabilities or developmental delays, helping them improve their mobility and independence.
  • Home Healthcare: Physical therapists may provide in-home care to patients who are unable to travel to a clinic or hospital.
  • Sports Teams: Physical therapists working with sports teams help athletes prevent and treat injuries, as well as enhance their performance.

These are just a few examples of the diverse work settings available to physical therapists. Depending on your interests and career goals, you can choose a setting that aligns with your passion and allows you to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

For more information on the career prospects for physical therapists, you can visit the website of the American Physical Therapy Association: https://www.apta.org


In summary, while physical therapists work closely with physicians, they do not attend medical school like MDs or DOs. Their educational path focuses more on rehabilitation, exercise science, biomechanics, and providing non-invasive treatment for injuries and conditions affecting patients’ mobility and function.

By understanding the key differences in their training, you can gain better insight into the vital role physical therapists play in healthcare.

So the next time someone asks if you need to go to medical school to become a physical therapist, you can confidently explain how their schooling and qualifications differ from those of medical doctors.

While the educational road is still long and rigorous, it prepares physical therapists to help patients recover movement and manage pain without the need for medications or surgery.

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