Physical therapists (physiotherapists) are healthcare professionals who evaluate and mostly treat physical conditions and disorders of the human body. Their job entitles them to aid you in treating these various ailments, from the exterior, on physical grounds:

  • Musculoskeletal system (bones and muscles)
  • Neurological system (brain)
  • Cardiopulmonary system (heart and brains)
  • Integumentary system (skin)

After indulging in the know-how of what physical therapists do, a question certainly hits the mind “are physical therapists doctors?”. This question is highly relevant because it sheds light on the importance of physical therapists. When you ask this question, are physical therapists doctors, you are praising physical therapists because the crucial services they provide can be compared to a doctor’s provisions.

After completing this article, surely you will have a better understanding of physical therapists. You will be able to answer the question, are physical therapists doctors, in a comprehensive manner. However, before we get into finding out “are physical therapists doctors?”, let’s quickly go over how to become a physical therapist.

How To Become A Physical Therapist

How to Become a Physical Therapist

Being a physical therapist is a fruitful profession that pays very well. The average salary of a physical therapist in the USA was around $85,000 in 2019. Physiotherapists are healthily employable, having a substantially low unemployment rate. So before you start questioning “are physical therapists doctors” it’s important to know how to become a physical therapist.

To practice as a physical therapist inside the U.S, it is necessary to receive a doctor of physical therapy degree from an accredited program by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. In addition, aspirants must also pass a state licensing exam. A doctor of physical therapy degree (DPT) takes around 3 years to finish.

Individuals studying in the DPT program acquire knowledge and understanding on various medicine-related fields such as:

  • Biology
  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Anatomy
  • Biomechanics
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Kinesiology
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Cellular Histology
  • Behavioral sciences

To truly understand and answer the question “how to become a physical therapist?” You must excel in the fields and many others mentioned above. Getting insights on these fields might clear the air on are physical therapists doctors or not.

Education Requirements For Physical Therapists

Education Requirements for Physical Therapist

Education requirements for physical therapists are not difficult nor are they unattainable. Admissions into DPT programs require students to have a bachelor’s degree. Some DPT programs also offer students an opportunity for attaining prerequisite academia, before enrolling in a DPT program.

This opportunity consists of students being allowed to partake in a 3+3 program format where these students spend their initial 3 years studying undergraduate courses which are focused on physical therapy. After completing the initial 3 years, they progress to the advanced 3 years DPT program.

There are some forms of education requirements for physical therapists is for high school students. Some DPT programs allow high school graduates certain entry into a guaranteed DPT admission program. Their admission is pre-booked and will attain admission as soon as they complete their undergraduate conditions.

Also, licensed physical therapists that have gone through all the processes can opt to enhance their knowledge base by participating in a clinical residency or fellowship plan. Residencies allow physiotherapists to gain experience and practice in a specialized practice area. So, before we get to the question of “are physical therapists doctors?”, let’s look at the degree that needs to be done to become one.

Physical Therapist Degree

Now, we shall talk in detail regarding the physical therapist degree. Let’s clarify and break down the whole process of obtaining the degree in 6 steps.

1. First of all, the majority of the students who pursue a physical therapist degree need to possess a bachelor’s degree in a field that complements physiotherapy in general. These fields are related to health science, exercise, and sports among many others. Some students, based on their academic backgrounds, might also be required to complete perquisites that are specific to physiotherapy. These include courses such as physics, kinesiology, biology, chemistry, and psychology.

2. After completing their undergraduate studies, students are required to enroll in an accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy program. Delving deep into the DPT program, DPT degree programs start with courses in various fields of study such as pathophysiology, anatomy, and more. After completing the first year of the program, the second year requires students to take an oath to protect lives and perform their work according to the best practices in a ceremony before they can enter the clinic to get practical experience.

Some graduate schools which offer the DPT degree also offer unique scheduling plans. A school, USAHS, offers its program according to two different plans which are as follows:

The residential DPT format involves coursework while also having to undergo practical experience during weekdays. This is a time-efficient approach as it usually takes less than 36 months to conclude the course.

The second plan of the 2 plans is the Flex DPT approach. This course or plan includes a coursework module with practical experience in a clinic over the weekends. This plan is specifically designed for working students due to the relaxation it has on offer. It usually takes 48 months to complete this plan.

3. After completing the physical therapist degree, to become a licensed physiotherapist, you are required to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). This computer-based examination consists of 250 multiple choice questions which are further split into 5 sections. This exam is conducted 4 times each year: January, April, July, and October.

4. To start your practice, you need to get a license. The process of getting a license is mostly different for each state. Some states also require additional criteria after passing the NPTE exam such as compliance training and background checks. The licensing also has to be maintained by physical therapists to keep them up to date with the updates and trends. They have to meet ‘continuing educational requirements’ every two years in many states.

5. Moving on, it is optional to get done with a residency program. A residency is a post-graduate clinical program that requires further consistent training and different assignments to complete. A residency is a step highly recommended by numerous practitioners because it is a great step towards gaining further specialization in your areas of interest and expertise.

6. Last down the line is the process of earning board certification. Be mindful that this step is optional.

After acquiring licenses and gaining professional experience in the field of physiotherapy, physical therapists have the chance to strengthen their professional life by getting certified by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS).

Physical therapy further consists of 10 specialty areas and some of them are clinical, neurology, sports, women’s health, and more.

To have a board certification in one, or more, of the abovementioned fields, applicants are required to pass, at least, an examination and complete their residency program or at least collect up to 2,000 hours worth of clinical practice and work.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Physical Therapist

It takes roughly three to eight years in order to become a physical therapist. It is a process that requires time, effort, and investment. You should be fully committed and determined during this process because you will succeed only this way.

What Does A Physical Therapist do?

After knowing the answer to the question “what does a physical therapist do?” You might not be able to tell the difference between a physical therapist and a doctor, and would ask again: are physical therapists doctors? Such is the importance and scale of a physical therapist’s duties.

After receiving referrals from consultants and doctors, they start off by conducting a physical examination in order to understand the situation. After doing this, their job revolves around employing a combination of these tools in your treatment plan:

  • Hands-on techniques
  • Exercising
  • Stretching

The aim is to increase motor functions of the body using these, and many others, above-mentioned tools.

In answering the question, what does a physical therapist do, we shall now look at their everyday duties more specifically:

  • Firstly, diagnoses of your current condition will be performed. In these diagnoses, your functioning will be observed such as standing, walking, and performing various movements and tasks.
  • Moving on, your concerns will be listened to in order to get a better judgment of the issue.
  • After understanding your issue, they will formulate a specialized plan developed for your own individual condition after evaluating you. This plan will include their observations of your issue, the goals set for you to progress, and your expected results.
  • They will also use different forms of therapeutic aids.
  • Complete and thorough documentation of your process.
  • They will assist you in everyday tasks such as lying down, standing up, and using crutches.
  • Lastly, they will be responsible for evaluating your condition, and on the basis of their evaluation, discharging you when appropriate.

Apart from these conventional duties, physical therapists play a huge role in motivating you and cheering you up. These roles are deeply underrated as they provide you with the energy for progress. Understanding these roles and responsibilities helps distinguish the line between a doctor and a physical therapist thus giving you an idea of are physical therapists doctors or not.

Can Physical Therapists Prescribe Medication?

Can Physical Therapists Prescribe Medication

The question, can physical therapists prescribe medication, will certainly clear up the shroud of confusion surrounding the question “are physical therapists doctors?”.

This is a common question asked by many. The answer is yes. On some occasions, the physical therapist can and will write prescriptions. However, this is not the primary task of a physical therapist. The primary task is to increase the overall health of the patient by strengthening their physical health by all means necessary.

Be mindful of the fact that on most occasions, however, physical therapists are not authorized to prescribe you medications. The question surrounding, can physical therapists prescribe medication has no definitive answer. Yes, they can. But, this should not be made a norm and you should be mindful of your physical therapist if he or she continuously provides you with prescriptions.

What a perfect scenario would look like is when physical therapists help a patient get stronger through reviewing their prescribed medications from the doctor. Next, physical therapists interact with your physician regarding your results and further requirements throughout your healing journey.

This is a key difference between a physical therapist and a doctor, and certainly puts a mark on the debate “are physical therapists doctors?”

Are Physical Therapists Doctors?

In conclusion, it is necessary to settle the debate of ‘are physical therapists doctors’ or not. After 2015, physical therapists were required to obtain a doctorate before their medical practice. Physical therapists that have undergone all the processes required for their degree had to obtain a Doctorate of Physiotherapy, DPT. Although physical therapists are not doctors in the conventional sense, they are still trained as doctors in their specific and specialized field of physical therapy.

After a New York Times article spurred confusion regarding what physical therapists should be called, a lot of attention was diverted to the question: are physical therapists doctors? APTA, which is an association of physical therapists, representing their word on a broader base, clarified many misconceptions by answering the New York Times published article.

In their statement, they stressed the fact that every physical therapist is required to provide their patients with the utmost clarity. By doing so, the association provides clear guidelines to physical therapists regarding the use of the title ‘Doctor’. These guidelines primarily indicate that all physical therapists inside a clinic, which hold the DPT degree, shall make it clear to the patient about their identity which is that of a physical therapist. This is so that the patients do not confuse them with actual doctors when physical therapists use the title of ‘Doctor’ or ‘Dr’. It was also communicated to all physical therapists who were part of the association to use the title of ‘Doctor’ under judicial law.

So, putting an end to the debate of: are physical therapists doctors? Since 2015, physical therapists are, in fact, doctors. This is because they also go through additional schooling as required, licensing, rigorous training, and practice just like any other dentist, nurse, doctor, surgeon, or therapist. A key difference between the two is that in the PT program, additional qualifications such as the fellowship are optional. This is not the case with conventional doctors.

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