Physical therapists assess and treat individuals with motion-related difficulties that interfere with daily functioning. These healthcare professionals train patients, supervise exercises and perform manipulations to restore range of motion, reduce pain, rebuild strength and prevent disability brought on by injury, surgery, neurological condition or illness. People who want to advance the industry’s success through research or prepare the next generation of therapists seek a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Physical Therapy.
Ph.D. versus DPT
Physical therapists obtain a license to practice their skill set by meeting state-specific requirements and passing a state-administered national exam after completing the requirements for a graduate degree from a program accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association. In 2011, this advanced degree is most often a clinical doctorate known as the Doctorate of Physical Therapy or DPT, which involves an additional six months to a year of study beyond the traditional master’s in physical therapy. The DPT should not be confused with the Doctor of Philosophy in Physical Therapy, which faculty, research and clinical directorship positions may require. Those who wish to attain higher salaries and more leadership power will appreciate the additional leverage that a Ph.D. gives them.
A Ph.D. in physical therapy prepares you for faculty and research leadership positions. Though not required for most applied therapy jobs, the Ph.D. provides the skills that allow you to teach or to develop new therapies and prosthetics to improve PT results through research and analysis. Ph.D. candidates build expertise as they perform original research aimed at enhancing clinical practices. Universities, medical schools and government facilities offer employment opportunities as faculty, researchers and program directors.
Getting the Ph.D.
Attaining this degree requires admission to a graduate school at a university or a division of a medical school, which demands completion of the undergraduate degree requirements for a bachelor’s in physical therapy, acceptable scores on the Graduate Record Exam, a PT license and clinical experience. Ph.D. programs for physical therapy also require a master’s degree before admission or fulfillment of its requirements after enrollment and prior to pursuing the doctoral program specifics. Financial assistance for full-time doctoral students comes primarily in the form of teaching fellowships or grants. Most schools require at least one or two semesters of full-time attendance on campus, a written dissertation and its successful defense.
The median annual salary for all physical therapists was $76,310 in May 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent earned $107,920. The average wage was $77,990. A physical therapist with a Ph.D. degree can expect to earn a salary nearer the high end of the pay scale, though wages vary by geographic location, job description and the hiring institution.